Hayden Triggs is done. Give or take a week or two, writes Brendan O’Brien.
LEINSTER V SCARLETS
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Still clearly in love with rugby, the Kiwi lock has developed a hatred for professionalism that has persuaded him to walk away from the game when Leinster wrap up their campaign this month even though, at 35, he feels sure his body has another season at least in it.
He’s been 15 years on the treadmill. It’s a career that has taken in Manawatu, Otago and North Harbour, stints with four Super Rugby franchises, three years in Japan, two with Leinster and nine caps for the Maori All Blacks. Not bad for a former army mechanic.
So, why walk away?
Listen to him talk and you ask instead how could he not? Triggs was a kid in the stands when the Hurricanes and Blues played their first professional games back in 1996.
He started off as a semi-pro himself and then got to experience the old club ethos at Upper Hutt in Wellington.
Brilliant bus trips and beers after training on a Thursday. And now?
“The game is different and it’s almost I don’t like it anymore,” he explained.
“The game itself on Saturday is the be all and end all. As professionals, we’re paid to do this. The game is what I love, I’ve said that before, but all the shit around it is hard.
“I see the guys who have just retired, sadly passing away, having heart complications or, the worst case scenario, committing suicide. There’s so much pressure and stress and that’s what these young kids are coming into now.”
He knows players now are different to how he was at their age but the wider environment still grates. Social media, particularly.
He thinks of New Zealand where, if a sportsman runs a red light, “there’s a dude with a camera giving out to him and going to report it to the cops”.
As for himself, he thinks he’ll be okay when the carousel stops. Triggs is a hugely popular character in the Leinster locker-room and a searingly honest communicator who is thinking about starting up a video log to track the ebb and flow of his thoughts in retirement.
He understands the dangers which stepping away from the game can bring. He references Dan Vickerman, the Wallaby forward whose life ended tragically at 37 earlier this year, and acknowledges that he will miss the routine, the buzz and camaraderie. And he’s walking away on a high.
A Top 14 posting could have been an option but it is one he never explored. He jokes that his kids have already had to adapt by learning Japanese and Irish in school and how French may be one language too many.
Truth is, nothing could compare to Leinster.
He’s only played 30 times for the province but a mark has been left.
A rugged lock with a decent skillset, he hasn’t always received the praise he deserved for his input but he has been rewarded in more meaningful ways by those inside the club and the wider community.
Jonathan Sexton was the first to ask him, his wife Mikala and their kids Adelaide and August around for a barbecue when they landed and the manner in which teammates, friends and acquaintances rallied around late last year when their three-week old daughter Stella passed away will never be forgotten.
“To me, that was mind-blowing,” he said, shaking his head. “Like, we were here 12 months and we had just, from all different directions, love and prayers, and support coming at ourselves.
“As a mature adult, that was probably one of the best things, off-field anyway.”
For all his staging posts, he is firm in his resolve that Leinster has been the best of them by far and he is clearly driven to play a part in securing a Guinness PRO12 title for the club as they face into Friday’s semi-final at home to the Scarlets before signing off.
Come next season, he’ll be home in New Zealand.
Where exactly, or doing what he can’t say. He’d like to have stayed here longer.
A stint coaching at St Mary’s gave him a taste for that sort of thing — and a path away from the pro game — but red tape has forced his hand so they’ll leave this summer after he’s taken time to meet people for a few pints.
He will be missed.
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