Former Junior Springbok scrumhalf James Hall says he is focused on sealing a place as the starting scrumhalf at Stade Francais. DYLAN JACK reports.
After a tough start to the season Hall has seen his stocks rise, starting the last three games as Stade look to rebuild their campaign. Most recently, the 24-year-old played a crucial role in helping the Parisians claim a surprising 30-18 victory over defending champions Toulouse, slotting a touchline conversion and going on a sniping run from behind a scrum to set up a try.
The performance goes hand in hand with the talent and enormous potential Hall has shown in previous stints with second-division side Oyonnax and the Kings.
After making something of a name for himself at schoolboys level for Kearsney College, Hall decided to play for Eastern Province after school with his only other real offer to join the Sharks Academy. In his first season in the Eastern Cape, he helped the EP U19 side with the Provincial Championship for the first time in their history.
This led to the opportunity to represent his country for the first time in 2016 as he was called up to the SA U20 side to play in the World Rugby U20 Championships in Manchester. Playing in all five games, Hall was part of the squad that finished third at the tournament. In that same year, he made his Vodacom Super Rugby debut for the Kings and while the side experienced a tough season, it formed a good introduction to the realities of professional rugby.
On recommendation from former Kings captain Steven Sykes, Hall was targeted by Oyonnax, who were looking for scrumhalf as they focused on promotion to the French Top 14.
‘It has been a big challenge for me, personally,’ Hall says about adapting to life in France. ‘It is my fourth season here and I still have not perfected the language. It has been very different, but I get by with putting in 100% effort at training. It is an attitude thing.
‘It was definitely different, with the change of pace in the game and how the guys play. At the same time, I try to stick to my strengths. When I went from playing Super Rugby to playing second division in France, it was very different. But having said that, I try to stick to playing a bit quicker as I did in South Africa.
‘Managing yourself as a player, there is a huge difference to rugby in South Africa. So I had to adjust to that as well. When I first moved over I realised how long the season is and how much can change during a season.’
Hall made a big impression at Oyonnax, starting 30 out of 31 games and helping them gain promotion top the Top 14 after the 2016-17 season. However, after Oyonnax were relegated in 2018, Hall felt ambition calling and took the opportunity to join former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer in Paris in 2019 as a replacement for the retiring Piet van Zyl.
With two promising young scrumhalves in Joris Segonds and U20 captain Arthur Coville in the Stade squad, Hall has found that he has had to take his chances when they come.
‘I am not saying anything about the players at Oyonnax, but the competition here is tough. One of the other scrumhalves here [Coville] captained the French U20 side when they won the U20 Championship in 2018. Having players like that makes things a lot more competitive. Even now, every week is a new challenge as to whether you are going to start or not, or even play. It is a healthy competition as well. We push each other.’
When discussing his international allegiance, Hall says that he would never turn down a call up to the Springbok squad, but adds that he does not want to focus too far into the future.
‘I am just playing the best rugby that I can at the moment,’ Hall says. ‘Whatever comes my way, I would definitely consider.
‘At the moment, I have not put too much thought into it. If I were to get a call-up, I would definitely consider it. That as a rugby player is the most special thing you can do, represent your country. That to me is really important. To be honest, I wouldn’t really think about playing for anybody else.
‘But at the moment I am just trying to give everything for Stade. I can’t concentrate too much on other things.’
Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images