Leyds the magic man
- 12 Sep 2017
After an injury-disrupted 2016, Dillyn Leyds has gone from strength to strength in 2017, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
One of the most memorable moments from the 2017 Super Rugby season came in the thrilling seventh-round clash between the Stormers and Chiefs at Newlands.
With the Stormers leading by just six points 10 minutes into the second half, the hosts fashioned a counter-attack led by Dillyn Leyds. As he was brought down in a tackle, the wing completed a ‘miracle’ back-hand pass from a seated position, with the ball finding a flying SP Marais, who went on to score a match-defining try.
By the end of July, Leyds’ one-in-a-million pass had racked up over 230,000 views on YouTube, having gone viral.
It was a moment that aptly illustrated the confidence of a player performing at the peak of his powers and without any fear of failure. It was also an example of the mindset shift the Stormers embraced this year by backing their players to express themselves with freedom. When SA Rugby magazine catches up with Leyds after Super Rugby, he reflects on that much-discussed moment with disbelief.
‘I sometimes see the clip pop up on social media and I wonder what I was thinking in that split second before I threw the ball,’ he chuckles. ‘I’m just lucky it came off, and to be honest, I was as surprised as anyone else. It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing.’
In many ways, it has been a season filled with pleasant surprises for Leyds. Last year the talented 24-year-old spent a lengthy spell on the sidelines as he recovered from a serious knee injury, and started 2017 with the simple desire of making a successful return to the rugby field. He memorably marked his comeback with an important try in the season-opener against the Bulls, which put the result beyond doubt. Over the next few weeks, Leyds consistently starred for the Stormers as they won their first six games in a rousing start to the season.
What stood out the most during this period was the Stormers’ desire to embrace an ambitious ball-in-hand approach that centred around a high-paced, offloading game. Leyds says this need for change was taken seriously after the Stormers’ humiliating 60-21 defeat to the Chiefs in their 2016 quarter-final.
‘We walked away from that game feeling disappointed and embarrassed. There was a lot of talk afterwards about change being necessary. We all bought into the plan to get where we want to be, which is eventually to become Super Rugby champions. This is just the beginning for us as a group, and although change isn’t always easy to accept, we have committed to stepping out of our comfort zone and to keep working towards this vision. We don’t want to be labelled as a team that just defends, and I think this season we showed that we have the ability to successfully make this change.’
From an individual perspective, Leyds completed a whopping 1 278 minutes of game time during the 2017 campaign, and while he predominantly made his mark out on the left wing, he also displayed the versatility that has made him such a valuable player. In the absence of the injured Robert du Preez and Jean-Luc du Plessis, Leyds started at flyhalf as the Stormers overcame the Blues in May, and he also impressed at fullback when Marais was sidelined towards the end of the season.
‘I’ve enjoyed being able to contribute in different positions where required, but settling in one spot is a discussion that does need to take place,’ Leyds says. ‘There are pros and cons to being seen as a utility player, so I do need to give it some thought and chat with the coaches about where they see my future. I don’t have a particular preference right now, but it may be important to start to specialise sooner rather than later.’
While Leyds certainly has the skills to suggest he may be best suited to fullback, where he has more time and space on the ball, it was his efforts on the left wing that earned him a call-up to the Springbok squad for the June series against France.
Although he featured only briefly off the bench in all three Tests, Leyds admits it was more than he could have hoped for after starting the year on the sidelines.
‘It was amazing to suddenly be in that Springbok environment alongside guys I had watched playing in the green and gold on TV,’ he says. ‘The four weeks in camp flew by, but there is something special happening at the Boks, and I’d love to remain a part of it. I think we showed against France that we are capable of playing a good brand of rugby, so hopefully there will be more opportunities for me to test myself against the best.’
For Leyds, that time spent in the Bok camp served as the pinnacle of a rugby journey that can be traced back to his childhood days, where he could often be found running up and down the touchlines supporting his father and cousins, who played club rugby in the Western Cape. His love for the game only strengthened during his days at renowned rugby school Bishops, where he excelled for the 1st XV alongside fellow future Stormers players such as Oli Kebble, Nizaam Carr and Johnny Kotze.
Leyds would go on to feature for Western Province at various age-group levels, and in 2010 he was included in their U18 Academy Week and Craven Week sides. Yet it was his exploits for UCT in the Varsity Cup that captured the attention of the local rugby fraternity. In fact, it was while playing for the Ikey Tigers in a warm-up game against the Junior Springboks that Leyds caught the eye of SA U20 coach Dawie Theron, who would later include him in the victorious U20 Championship team of 2012.
‘I didn’t know where rugby would take me after I left Bishops, so to be representing my country at age-group level just two years later was beyond my wildest expectations,’ Leyds recalls. ‘It was incredibly special to not only go on to win the tournament, but to also beat the Baby Blacks at Newlands in the final.’
Although his prolific junior career opened the door for him to join Western Province, his transition to the senior set-up came via a somewhat unusual route. With Gio Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe offering the Stormers options at fullback, Leyds took the opportunity to gain Super Rugby experience with the Force in Perth in 2014.
‘That stint at the Force was an opportunity for me to experience a different environment and culture, but it was always my dream to come back and play for the Stormers,’ he says.
That dream became a reality when he made his Stormers debut against the Bulls at Loftus in 2015, and he hasn’t looked back since. The good news is that he is here to stay.
‘To be honest, right now I don’t have any desire to go anywhere,’ Leyds states emphatically. ‘I’d like to continue playing my rugby in this country and to keep performing consistently for the Stormers. I’ve had a taste of Springbok rugby, and I’m hungry for more.’
– This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine
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