Dillyn Leyds opens up about his move from the Stormers to La Rochelle, learning French and receiving advice from Cheslin Kolbe.
What made you decide to join La Rochelle?
‘They were really keen to have me over there. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to experience a different lifestyle and rugby environment. Jono Gibbes [director of rugby] and Ronan O’Gara [head coach] explained their approach and how I can add value to the way they want to go, which was attractive to me. They gave me the feeling they really wanted me to come over. Even when it was just discussions, some of their players reached out and told me what a nice club it is and the amazing support they have. It got to the point where I thought it could be a good move for me.’
What do you expect from the Top 14?
‘You hear different stories about it. Some people say it is slower and a bit more physical. We all know there is a massive focus on set piece. One element that attracted me was the way La Rochelle approach the game and are playing. They aren’t your typical French side. They are sort of in line with Toulouse, where they have an attacking mindset. So I am excited to experience the Top 14. From what I have seen, it seems like it isn’t the same pace you would get in a Stormers vs Chiefs clash. But you will definitely get a physical side. I am also looking forward to testing my ability against some of France’s best. Hopefully the club can do well and get into the Champions Cup. It would be great to be involved in that.’
Do you think this move is coming at the right time for you?
‘At this moment, it has been the right decision. A couple of years ago when I got an opportunity to go to Japan. It was an attractive offer and I considered it, but I probably wasn’t mentally ready to leave and I wasn’t in the correct space to make a decision like that. With La Rochelle’s approach, I was shown how it would benefit me as a player, where I am at as a person away from rugby and where I want to grow. I could have gone earlier but it probably wouldn’t have been the best decision for me. It shows a more mature side of me to be able to realise this is the right time to go and experience something different.’
Are you excited to change your lifestyle?
‘I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve been speaking to a few guys in the UK and France over the past couple of years and you hear only good things. They obviously say good things about the areas they are in. I got hold of Zack Holmes, who plays for Toulouse now, and who I played with at the Force. He was at La Rochelle for three years and I have been chatting to him quite a bit to find out more about the place. I have a lot of schoolmates who are all over Europe and they are excited that I am coming over to France. Hopefully I can reconnect with some of them who I haven’t seen in quite a long time.’
How are the French lessons going?
‘It has been quite fun. It is just me and my girlfriend at home at the moment. We try to speak to each other before bed or greet each other in French in the morning. That’s about as far as we have got. We try to do French lessons for half an hour to an hour every day. It is tough. I’ve been telling my mates I will need to drag my girlfriend with me to training, because she is nailing it at the moment.’
Did you chat to Cheslin Kolbe about what to expect when you get to France?
‘He has been the one guy I go to with any questions. I approached him when the La Rochelle thing came about. It is nice because during our time at the Stormers we were roommates, so we got quite close and had conversations about anything happening in our lives. It has been great to have his input. His wife, Layla, has been really nice and chatted to my girlfriend and gave her advice about what we can expect. It is obviously a difficult time for both of them – moving to a new country, not really having any friends, whereas Cheslin and I can go to training and meet teammates and that makes the transition a bit easier. Your partner is probably not going to have such a smooth transition. Cheslin and Layla have been so helpful.’ – Dylan Jack
Photo: Gavin Barker/BBP