VERSATILITY can be a blessing as well as a curse. Many players may feel that their ability to play in more than one position too often means that they end up playing in none and warming the bench instead, but Damien Hoyland feels differently.
If his first few outings at full-back for Edinburgh were a case of a winger filling in where he had to, the 26-year-old is now wholly at home in the position. In fact, as he explained earlier this week after his new two-year contract with the team was announced, at times he feels more at home playing 15 than 14.
“For me, it’s great to have just another string to add to the bow, pretty much,” Hoyland explained. “I’m happy on the wing, but I’ve actually really enjoyed playing full-back. The ball comes to me a lot more, just naturally, which I am enjoying quite a lot.
“And I actually probably prefer playing full-back. Well, I’ve preferred playing full-back this season as opposed to wing the past two seasons. So, whether it’s a permanent move, I’m not sure, but you can see guys switch around in the back three quite a lot. So I imagine I’ll be switching back and forth the next few years.”
No matter how many games Hoyland plays in which position, his next few years will hopefully be less troubled by injury than 2017 and 2018 were. The latter was particularly difficult, as he spent almost all of it sidelined by a foot injury, and confronting the inevitable fears that his coaches would deem him surplus to requirements. But he learned to deal with those fears, and, after he was given a one-year extension to his contract for this season, his new two-year deal has emphasised his increasing importance as a squad member who is now just at home at full-back as he is on the wing.
“Again, that’s something that I learned a lot about when I was injured,” he continued. “You have to take things day by day, because if you look too far into the future and you worry about things, you get that in your head and you forget about the task at hand, which is getting back to be fully fit.
“I just focused on getting my rehab being my main priority. Then I ended up coming back a bit quicker, I played a few games and now I’ve managed to re-sign off the back of it. It’s something I probably didn’t think about too much, because I knew that if I did then I wouldn’t be focusing on what was more important.
“It’s nice to have that all sorted, that I don’t have to think about it anymore and can just focus on rugby. Just delighted to be staying at the club. And for another two years as well, which is good. I’m just excited to see what this group of guys can do, and achieve moving forward.
“I’ve had a couple of pretty difficult years injury-wise, but that’s kind of done with, I’ve managed to flush that. I’ve learned a lot from it, and probably the main thing I’ve learned is how to switch off outside of rugby, which I think has helped me a lot the last year or so.
“I’m happy, fingers crossed, to put all of my injury troubles behind me so that I can just crack on. We’ve got an amazing rehab team here and I feel physically probably better than I did before I got injured.”
Physically better and personally more serene. Having been made aware of the impermanent nature of a sporting career, Hoyland has learned to switch off from sport and focus instead on a couple of entirely different things. “I like my coffee,” he explained. “Me and Rambo [Stuart McInally] have got a wee coffee business on the go, which is good, and it’s been keeping me busy.
“I do a bit of uni on the side, and stuff like that as well. Just things like spending time with friends and family, to just completely try to switch off from the game. I think it’s very important, because we’re very much in a bubble in professional sport, and I think you can kind of lose track of other things that are important as well. And, it can eat you up at times if you don’t focus on other things. So, I think I’ve done that quite well.”
The “bit of uni”, he explained, is a course in business and enterprise in sport. “It’s something that Edinburgh Napier do for guys that are fortunate enough to be elite athletes, and it’s exactly for that purpose – to switch off and do something else outside of rugby.
“It’s been fine. It’s work. It is [challenging sometimes]. Say we get a day off, the easy thing to do is have a lie in, go to have breakfast, then go for a coffee and maybe go back to have a nap. You can switch off doing that, which is fine, but sometimes it’s difficult to motivate yourself to do other things that require a bit more work. I think a lot of my stuff with uni has been leaving it last minute – which I’m trying to educate myself not to do.”
Hoyland’s team-mates Magnus Bradbury and Blair Kinghorn are on the same course, but perhaps not on the same wavelength when it comes to academic work. The suggestion is that he is getting the best grades of the three – a suggestion he did not attempt to deny. “Oh yeah,” he said, laughing. “They’re on a different planet. So I’m thankfully not with them.”