Jayden Hayward prospers with Western Force

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2013
Jayden Hayward
Getty Images
NEW HOME: Jayden Hayward in action for the Western Force.

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Jayden Hayward left for Western Australia - a faraway land of opportunity for Kiwis - after never settling in a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise and has eventually found a home away from home.

The former Taranaki second five-eighth made 24 appearances for the Highlanders and Hurricanes over four seasons and opted to head to Perth and the Western Force in search of more stability late last year.

Hayward assumed he would be pressing for a midfield berth but new head coach Michael Foley had other ideas: left field suggestions that have eventually allowed the 25-year-old to secure a long-coveted starting role.

After featuring in just two of the Force's first eight games off the reserves bench Hayward is now a fixture as the team's fullback and goal kicker, a transition that coincided with one of the greatest wins in their success-starved history - the 16-14 victory over the Crusaders on April 13.

Until starting at fullback that night at NIB Stadium, Hayward had only worn the No 15 jersey at high school and occasionally for Eltham Kaponga.

And goal kicking? Not since he progressed to the Taranaki NPC side in 2008.

Will Tupou and Sam Norton-Knight were initially preferred at fullback while Waikato pivot Sam Christie, South African import Sias Ebersohn and Zimbabwe-born midfielder Kyle Godwin all had kicking duties before Hayward proved more accurate at training.

"I always knew I could kick I just never put a lot of time and effort into it," said Hayward, who had missed five only 19 attempts leading into tonight's round 15 clash with the Highlanders.

"When I came over here they asked me how do I go kicking goals. There was a competition between the kickers and I won a few amongst the boys."

Recording four from five in consecutive weeks against the Crusaders and Hurricanes - at Westpac Stadium - activated his radar and he is also finding his bearings in the back field thanks to starting six of the Force's last seven.

"It's exciting, a new challenge, It's not really a natural position for me, I have to work hard at it," said Hayward, who is contracted to the end of 2014.

Defence coach David Wessels is a guiding force positionally while former Queensland technical adviser Philip Fowler monitors his work with the tee and his fellow kickers sledge him at training.

"We try and get into each other's heads and put each other off," said Hayward of the basis of his mental preparation.

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A positive attitude and uncluttered mind is obviously a prerequisite at the Force given their continuing inability to challenge for a play-off spot.

The perennial strugglers only have two wins and a draw so far - although wins over the Crusaders, Reds and a return match stalemate with the Queenslanders are notable achievements.

Languishing at the bottom of the Australian conference and 14th overall - only the Highlanders sit below them - it would be understandable to get disheartened but Hayward said the mood remained upbeat as they plan to ambush another Kiwi team on their return trip from South Africa

"It's always frustrating when you lose but further down the track we'll be better as a team. Hopefully we can learn and move forward."

Meanwhile, Hayward's sunny disposition is probably influenced by his current work environment.

"I don't miss the 'Naki weather, that's for sure," he said.

"When you come to training over here you're in shorts and a singlet and everyone's happy.

"In New Zealand it's wet, cold and everyone looks at each other and goes: 'Do we have to?'"

- Fairfax Media

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