Outgoing Stormers back Dillyn Leyds feels it is the right time to go and experience something different as he heads off to join French side La Rochelle. DYLAN JACK reports.
Leyds’ move to France was officially confirmed last week, even though he had made the decision to leave the Stormers and signed for La Rochelle back in March.
The 27-year-old – who attended Bishops in Cape Town – will end a nearly decade-long association with Western Province rugby.
After making a try-scoring Vodacom Super Rugby debut against the Vodacom Bulls in 2015, Leyds quickly became a fan favourite, with his off-the-cuff style of play providing the Newlands faithful with plenty of highlights.
Speaking to SARugbymag.co.za, Leyds said it was tough to to say goodbye to a team he has such a close relationship with – as well as to give up on the dream of playing alongside his younger brother Tristan.
‘It definitely was a difficult decision to make,’ Leyds said. ‘There was a whole lot of back and forth from my side. With my family, I have made it no secret that one of my biggest dreams was to run out at Newlands and play alongside my brother.
‘It was really tough. Especially having grown up in Cape Town with a rugby-mad family. I used to watch my dad and uncle play club rugby in Strand literally every weekend. Being able to play for Western Province and the Stormers, it feels like you aren’t only leaving your family and friends, but it almost feels like a part of you has been ripped away.
‘I have a close attachment to this union and the people in this place – I only have good things to say about everybody that I have worked with. There have been some tough times over here, but it has just made the place and the people grow on you and you enjoy and appreciate it even more.
‘Probably, at the moment, this has just been the right decision,’ Leyds added. ‘There were times, like three or two years ago, I got an opportunity to go to Japan. It was an attractive offer and I was considering it, but I probably wasn’t mentally ready to leave yet and I wasn’t in the correct space to make a decision like that.
‘With the whole approach from La Rochelle, it would benefit me as a player and where I am at as a person away from rugby where I want to grow. There were times where I could have gone earlier, but it probably wouldn’t have been the best decision for me. I think it shows a more mature side of me to be able to realise that it is the right time to go and experience something different.’
When Leyds does arrive in France, he will be joining an exciting project headed up by Ronan O’Gara. The former Ireland flyhalf took over as La Rochelle coach in 2019 after a short stint as an assistant at the Crusaders.
‘When speaking to the club, they were really keen to have me over there,’ Leyds explained. ‘I just thought to myself that this is a great opportunity for me to go and experience a different lifestyle and different rugby environment.
‘They have obviously got [director of rugby] Jonno Gibbes and Ronan O’Gara there and just from speaking to them, I got a sense of the direction they want to take the club. The way they approached the whole meeting with me – we had a Skype session – what they had to say about the club and how I can add value to the way they want to go – that really attracted me. They gave me the feeling they really wanted me to come over there.
‘Even when the move was just talk, some of their players reached out to me and told me what a nice club it is and the amazing support they have. It got to the point where I thought this could be a good move for me.’
Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images