SAM Hidalgo-Clyne has revealed he was close to signing for Toulouse when a phone call from Paris persuaded him to think again. The call came from Mike Prendergast, backs coach with Racing 92. The invitation: to sign for the capital club and play regularly in a stadium that the Scotland international already regarded as one of the most impressive he had ever seen action in.
After some careful deliberation, Hidalgo-Clyne signed for Racing yesterday, agreeing a short-term contract that runs from 1 July to mid-November – the same length of deal that was being discussed with Toulouse. There would have been no guarantees with either club beyond that date, but the 25-year-old scrum-half believes he will have a better chance at Racing of making the sort of immediate impact he needs to convince them to offer him a longer deal.
“I was looking to sign with Toulouse – we were in talks – and I was pretty much about to sign for them,” Hidalgo-Clyne told The Offside Line. “Then on Thursday night Racing came in and said they wanted to sign me for World Cup cover, which is what was on the table at Toulouse.
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“The call was from Mike Prendergast, and he was really keen to work with me. He’s Irish, and as I can’t speak any French yet it will be really useful to have him there. My aim is to learn French as quickly and as well as I can, and I’m really keen that Hugo [his infant son] has the opportunity to learn it too, but right now it will be great to have Mike to talk to as he’s an English speaker – and he’s an ex-scrum-half as well, so he’s got a very clear idea of what he wants from me.
“Toulouse is obviously an incredible club, but with a four-and-a-half-month contract, to settle in as quickly as possible where there are very few English-speaking people would have been tough. So I decided that Paris might be the better option for me – not just for the next few months but also as a longer-term possibility.
“It happened very quickly and it all got signed up yesterday. I’m going over there on Tuesday, so it’s all been very quick. I’m excited.”
Having fallen out of favour with Scarlets, who he joined from Edinburgh last summer, Hidalgo-Clyne impressed while on loan from the Welsh club to Harlequins during the last two months of the season. He knew, however, that a longer-term move to the London side was not practicable, but decided all the same that it was better he should move on from Scarlets. They agreed, and, although the last few weeks have been full of uncertainty, the Scot is delighted by the way things have turned out.
“When Scarlets and I agreed that I would leave, I was taking a risk of not having another option,” he explained. “There was nothing on paper.
“ I enjoyed it at Quins, and I got really good feedback from them and learned a lot. But they couldn’t do anything for me at the time – which is OK, these things happen.”
Hidalgo-Clyne knows he is unlikely to see too much of Racing stand-off Finn Russell over the next few months given the latter’s World Cup commitments – although curiously as it turns out, one of the most recent times the erstwhile Scotland team-mates had a chat was on the field of play at the Paris La Defense Arena, Racing’s home ground. “I played in that stadium this year for Scarlets, and honestly it’s just one of the most awesome places I’ve ever played. I remember saying to Finn ‘If I ever got an opportunity [to play for Racing] I’d have to take it’.
“So we’ll see how it goes. Contract until mid-November, then we’ll see what happens after the World Cup – if there are injuries, or if I’m playing well, and opportunities arise. If not, I’ll just look elsewhere again.
“It’s just a case of taking this chance and going from there. If I’d stayed at Scarlets, I don’t know where I would have been in the pecking order. The opportunity is definitely there, I’ve just got to take it, to be honest.”