Saints star Haywood has earned an England chance

Eddie Jones' squad for England's tour of Australia was always going to open up a can of wichetty grubs.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 28th May 2016, 4:58 pm
Updated Saturday, 28th May 2016, 6:13 pm
Saints V Bath.
Mikey Haywood's try.
Saints V Bath. Mikey Haywood's try.

No matter which sport, whether it is rugby, football or cricket, there are always a plethora of different opinions about who should be in or out.

The main reason for this is allegiance.

Club fans watch their men week in, week out, forming strong opinions about them in the process.

Some players are rubbish and should never wear the shirt again, while others are the best thing since sliced bread and simply cannot put a foot wrong.

And as England boss Jones said himself this week: “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that if you listen to the fans, you’ll end up in the grandstand with them.”

So outcry from a particular set of club supporters about a player missing out on selection for their country has to be analysed carefully.

But when a group of judges, who have a broad knowledge of the game, possess no specific allegiance to a club and watch a broad spectrum of players, tell you that a man is worthy of recognition, it is worth noting.

That has been the case of Mike Haywood this season.

For a long time now, the hooker has been highly rated at Franklin’s Gardens, but he had struggled to get the recognition he deserves outside of Northampton.

He started both the Aviva Premiership and Amlin Challenge Cup final wins back in 2014, playing a huge part in one of the greatest seasons in Saints history.

And he has continued to go from strength to strength ever since.

In the season just gone, he showed almost inhuman levels of energy to ensure Saints didn’t miss Dylan Hartley, who was only able to make nine appearances for his club due to injury and international commitments.

Haywood featured in all 29 of his club’s games, starting 23 of them and showing no signs of the tiredness you would have expected.

Saints’ own version of the Duracell bunny just kept going and going, rarely dropping below 7/10 and often hitting 8/10 or 9/10 (no one ever gets a 10/10).

He shouldered the weight of the Northampton No.2 shirt manfully and Magic Mike, as he is known by his team-mates due to a penchant for performing magic tricks, even popped up with three crucial tries.

And, consequently, a selection of impartial judges placed him in the Aviva Premiership’s team of the season.

Haywood and Teimana Harrison were both deservedly named in the dream team, alongside the likes of Saracens stars George Kruis and Maro Itoje.

But while Harrison, Kruis and Itoje were rightly named in the England squad, which was announced on Sunday, there was no sign of Haywood.

He would not be going on the three-Test tour of Australia, but, surely, a day later, he would at least get the consolation of a place in the Saxons squad for their trip to South Africa?

Reading down the list, the name of new Wasps hooker Tommy Taylor was there.

So too was that of Newcastle Falcons player George McGuigan.

But there was no Haywood.

So just why had he been overlooked for both squads.

Obviously, the main theory is that England boss Eddie Jones just doesn’t rate a man who has been impressing for one of England’s top teams for a number of years now.

A player whose most recent appearances in the white shirt came in the England Under 20s’ run to the Six Nations Grand Slam and the Junior World Championship final in 2011.

But another theory could just be perception.

Those who indirectly assume the title of deputy are never quite allowed to step into the spotlight until they become the main man.

They are seen as solid understudies, there to step onto the stage if the lead performer falls down.

But it is tough for their talents to be truly appreciated, as they are always in the shadows.

And there is no bigger shadow than the England captain.

Dylan Hartley is the man with that title - and rightly so.

He is a natural leader and his ability to solder a group of players together was shown in the recent Grand Slam success.

Not only that, but he’s a pretty good hooker, too!

But just because Hartley is seen as the best England has to offer, it doesn’t mean Haywood should be placed below other first-choice players at other clubs when it comes to England selection.

Being the best at your club doesn’t mean you are better than a man seen as a back-up elsewhere.

And that perception seems to be the only plausible reason for Haywood’s complete omission from both England squads this summer.

In truth, as much as he is desperate to get his chance and show what he is made of, the rest will probably do him good.

He has been indefatigable in his work for his club, playing 80 minutes more often than most backs.

And that campaign at the coal face will take its toll sooner or later.

But, mentally, he is fresh and fired up, knowing that if he gets the chance to wear the rose, he will blossom and establish himself.

He just needs that opportunity.

Now, barring injury to another player, it won’t come this summer.

But he can take some consolation in knowing that those who picked him for the Premiership dream team and the fans who watch him every week recognise that the 24-year-old has everything he needs to shine for his country in the years to come.