Byron Hayward is relishing the opportunity to shape the next generation of Welsh talent having gone back to the future ahead of the men’s Six Nations U20 Championship 2022.
Former Scarlets and Wales defence coach Hayward was appointed lead age grade coach by the Welsh Rugby Union in December and will oversee his country’s U20 Championship campaign.
Hayward was part of the U20 coaching staff for three years prior to joining the Scarlets in 2014 and created fond memories as he helped develop a host of full internationals, including current back-row star Ellis Jenkins.
As he prepares his squad for their opening Six Nations U20 2022 match against Ireland in Cork on Friday, Hayward says that development – both of his players and coaching staff – will be a key tenet of his tenure.
📢 WALES U20 squad announcement 📢— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 2, 2022
Byron Hayward has named his side to face Ireland at Musgrave Park on Friday in opening game of the #U20SixNations
FULL STORY | ⬇️https://t.co/u0otbBiWOO pic.twitter.com/hpIAG8P4VG
“In terms of my coaching career, there's nothing more satisfying than seeing young boys aspire to and achieve their dreams,” Hayward told World Rugby.
“The likes of Ken [Owens], Jonathan [Davies] and Rob [Evans], etc you're actually seeing them do that at U20 level and they go on and in Ken's and Jon’s case, they become British Lions. There is nothing more rewarding from a coaching perspective.
“So, I guess why it's different for me now is my motives are different than they probably were eight to 10 years ago when I was aspiring to go on to coach a regional team and coach as high as I could.
“Well, I've done that, so my motives for being here right now are to enjoy what I do, first and foremost, and help other coaches develop who are on the same journey as I was then.
“We've got coaches with us now, who are in their early to mid-30s and [I want to] help them progress and help the players progress.”
“It’s achievable because it’s been done”
Hayward enjoyed five successful years with the Scarlets, in which they won the 2016-17 PRO12 title and reached the European Champions Cup semi-finals the following season, before leaving to join the senior Wales set-up under Wayne Pivac.
That move did not work out as Hayward had hoped but he remains in regular contact with Pivac, who he says is “very hands-on with the pathway”.
Christ Tshiunza is the latest player to make the step up to the senior squad and Hayward uses him and other World Rugby U20 Championship graduates he has worked with as an example to his current group.
“If I stand up in front of them and say, 'Boys, look, in a few years’ time, you're going to be playing in the national stadium, in the Six Nations, in the next World Cup’… they don't believe it,” he said.
“But when you put the pictures up on the PowerPoint and there's so many, I think the penny drops then.
“So, yes, we do use that definitely as a motivational tool, but also something that they know is achievable and it's not just fresh air, you know, I’m not just saying that.
“It is actually achievable because it's been done, it's factual.”
Since winning the Six Nations U20 Grand Slam in 2016, Wales have not finished higher than third and won two of five matches during last year’s Championship, which was held at Cardiff Arms Park due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hayward believes the key to success this season will come in finding the right balance between performances on the pitch and long-term development off it.
“When you're in professional sport, elite professional sport, it is all about winning. It's just purely results,” he said. “But I think our programme is a 50-50, where it's performance and development.
“Of course, we are performing and we're going out there to win every game, but we also have to have an eye as well – that's what I'm promoting with our coaches – to see the long-term for the player. What's best for the player?
“And we utilise our squad so we don't just use the same players every game like you would if you were in a professional environment, for example. You play your best team every week because you have to win every week.
“Now, of course, we have to win every week, but we also have a duty to develop players as well and give other players game time.”
“I was so happy for him”
Hayward admits he did not always get that balance right during his previous stint as Wales U20 coach, and points to a 67-7 defeat to England in 2014 as a particularly painful lesson about squad rotation.
He believes that success on the pitch and development off it often goes hand-in-hand. “Part of the process is to give these players a winning mindset,” Hayward said.
But it is watching the players he has coached at age-grade level make the leap onto the test stage that has given him some of his happiest and proudest memories in rugby.
“I watched Kirby Myhill come on for Wales against New Zealand (in October), I was sat in the house watching on my own, and I felt an unbelievable amount of joy… I was so happy for him,” Hayward said.
“I wouldn’t imagine Kirby ever thought it was going to happen now because he’ll be 30 [on Saturday].
“Trophies and winning are an added bonus for me but as many of those players that I can help achieve their dreams, that is the number one priority for me and for the coaches as well that are working with us.
“I want to make sure the environment is one where we enjoy coming to work and the culture is right.
“You can have a culture of ego or a culture of growth and development. The growth and development one is important for me.”