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'I never really saw it as wow, I'm playing with Atonio and Skelton'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Xavier Leoty/AFP via Getty Images)

Leicester academy graduate Harry Glynn definitely won’t forget his swashbuckling first Top 14 start for La Rochelle. When he put pen to paper on a one-year deal for the 2022/23 season in France before his 21st birthday in August, it came with the warning that he could be left kicking his heels for quite some time.

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Champions Cup-winning out-half Ihaia West had exited the club for Toulon following his trophy-clinching exploits in Marseille last May, but there was a slew of way more experienced players ahead of Glynn in the clamour to succeed the Maori All Blacks player in the No10 jersey.

Pierre Popelin has competitively fought it out with West for the shirt last season following his arrival from Vannes. They were also two summer signings, Pau regular Antoine Hastoy and Ulupano Seuteni, the Samoan international who was picked up from Bordeaux, while the seasoned Jules Le Bail had long been on the Maritime club’s books as a half-back who can play both nine and ten positions.

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Look and learn was very much the advice passed down from on high at La Rochelle to Glynn, the French-born rookie who spent the first ten years of his life living in France before the appointment of his dad Ged, the ex-Spain national team boss, as the chief scout at Leicester resulted in the family moving to England.

And yet, there he was just a few weeks into the new season gambolling down the Stade Marcel-Deflandre tunnel with the No10 glistening on his back. Glynn had been told the previous Monday that September 17 would be his big chance and he didn’t fluff his lines, scoring two tries as La Rochelle picked apart Perpignan on a 43-8 scoreline in front of a sun-drenched capacity crowd of 16,000 that included Glynn’s proud parents.

He scored off a quickly tapped penalty and also had the guts to risk snatching an interception, a gamble that paid off handsomely when he stole the pass, raced in and hammed it up celebrating with fans who were delighted to see their team bank a third consecutive early-season victory. “It was a dream to be even part of the squad, to be part of the starting 15,” said Glynn to RugbyPass about his pinch-me first start in the glamorous French top-flight with La Rochelle.

“The weather was incredible, really good, not much wind, no rain at all and it was pretty cool. With the two tries, I was able to attack the ball the way I wanted to play my game and then just having the front-foot ball that the forwards gave me made it a lot easier.

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“I’d seen a couple of the Perpignan mauls and lineouts on that side and they had struggled to get the ball out as Will (Skelton) and Uini (Atonio) had put a lot of pressure on them just to name a couple. All eight were putting a lot of pressure on them and I saw that happening again. I knew the nine just wanted to get the ball out to the twelve so I just tried to put myself in the position and luckily he gave it and I was able to get away.

“Both my parents were able to get to the game and my sister was watching it on the TV as she is working in England. My parents were in tears at the end of the game when I saw them. It was great to have them there and to speak to them straight after and give them a hug. They were very proud. Mum hadn’t been to a game at the club before, it was her first chance to see Stade Rochelais packed out with 16,000 people and she loved it. They were just very, very proud of me.”

What about the dressing room reaction to Glynn showing he had the chemistry to fit in at this level for La Rochelle? “It was pretty calm, it wasn’t calm – how do you explain that? It was very happy, everyone was very happy for me, for the team, we got the job done and got the five points.

“It wasn’t really a right, we are going to put these guys in and if we win then wow, it was more right, it is just another one, it’s normal for us, we just try to do the job and whoever is on the field just does the job. It wasn’t ecstatic, wow, wow, wow, wow but everybody was happy because of the five points win.”

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It was an unexpected early endorsement of what he can offer to a team where nerves on his part didn’t exist. Having made the switch from England to France in August 2020, Glynn had spent two years in the La Rochelle espoirs and made a low-key 18-minute first-team debut as a sub in the behind-closed-doors Top 14 game at Brive in May 2021.

“Last year I trained quite a bit with the boys so I had a lot of good relationships already formed before this new season started so the guys who won the Champions Cup, I had trained with them and it wasn’t pretty daunting looking at the big names. I didn’t see it as that, I just saw it as blokes doing the same job, all going towards the same goal.

“I have made good connections with them. I never really saw it as, ‘Oh wow, I’m playing with Uini Atonio and Will Skelton’. That didn’t really put that much pressure on me. It was more, ‘Oh, I have got my mate next to me, I know he is going to do his job so I just need to do mine’.”

What also served Glynn so well on his Top 14 graduation was the succinct tuition received while playing with the U21s. Sebastien Boboul, who has coached both the youngsters and the first team, had been a regular in his ear. So too club boss Ronan O’Gara, the legendary Ireland and Munster out-half.

“He [O’Gara] has a huge amount of knowledge, has seen and done it all, so it’s incredible to have a guy like him who has played the same position. He has definitely helped me quite a lot so far and has given me quite a lot of advice. I couldn’t say anything specific, it’s more in my attacking game knowing when to go and when to play.

“A couple of years ago I tried to play a bit too much, especially the first year in the espoirs. I tried to play every ball and they have basically since helped me to understand when to play and when not to play, when to hit, which areas to kick out from and which areas to kick into and to play into.

“They haven’t put a right, you can’t play in these parts. They are very encouraging in playing and wanting to have good, flowing rugby but they have just helped me to find out the details of when to play and when not to.”

Was there a hard lesson learned in that first year when trying to play too much? “I was playing for the espoirs in a game at home and both of them came to watch and our forwards weren’t going forward as much as we would have liked but in the match, we were going pretty well.

“We were in our 22 and I thought I saw a little bit of space and said, ‘Let’s go for it’. We ended up making a bad pass which went to ground. The guy knocked it on but it was a poor pass from me and then a couple of phases later, they ended up scoring and they spoke to me afterwards.

“It was, ‘Luckily it didn’t change the game but that kind of mistake can change the game’. I went through it with them on the video and went through a couple of other things and from there that is where I have learned.”

What is further encouraging is that Glynn sounds very much like a La Rochelle player with a mature head on very young shoulders. Suggest to him that it must be a worry having only a twelve-month contract with a first-team where he has been told chances to play will be very restricted and the response isn’t what you expected.

“I see it as I’m just playing because I enjoy playing. It’s not I’m thinking in my head I have got to make a good read here or I have got to do this well because then I won’t get a contract. It’s not like that at all. It’s more do the right thing for the team at the time and if it is to stay in the line and make a tackle or push, then that is it.

“It’s just trying to help the team as much as possible really. It’s not, ‘Oh God, I’m not contracted next year, I hope I can do something’. It’s not that way at all,” he explained before going to reflect on his ranking at the bottom of the No10 pecking order.

“All the guys are very good players. They have a lot of experience and I don’t really see it as a rivalry, it’s more a way to learn. I am watching what they are trying to do, trying to take things out of their game to put into mine. It’s not a rivalry really. I know they are a lot more experienced than me and have more of a front-foot start. That is normal as they are older and more experienced but I see them as a way of learning.

“I have got dreams but right now I am just concentrating on this year and seeing where that takes me. If I stay great and if not I will obviously have a look but for now, my ambitions are with La Rochelle and to help them win as many games as possible.”

Glynn didn’t get to fully embrace the mayhem of La Rochelle winning the European Cup five months ago. The espoirs had a quarter-final to play that Sunday so they made do with watching the win over Leinster on TV at the training ground. However, he loves the club and the city it is located in, a very different type of area from where he grew up – Correze in southwest France.

It was ages ago when Glynn’s dad originally set up an activities business in Meymac where groups still come in and do things like kayaking, canoeing and rock climbing. Rugby, though, took the family to Leicester, Ged progressing from head scout in 2010 to become head of operations in 2014.

It was an upheaval. “For sure, it was very strange, a different culture and that kind of stuff,” admitted Harry about moving countries at a young age. “I spoke English at the time but because all my schooling was in France I didn’t know how to read or write English which made things a bit complicated but my twin sister and I, we got there in the end.”

Rugby helped him settle and that talent was ultimately nurtured in a Leicester academy squad where the likes of Freddie Steward, Jack van Poortvliet and George Martin were teammates. “I’ve got a lot of good memories with that. Both years we were academy champions of England. The first year I didn’t play a huge amount, only a couple of games and didn’t play in the final, but the second year I played pretty much every game and got the start in the final. RugbyPass made a documentary of that season.

“I knew there were good players but you never thought you had players who would end up being the first choice for England at the age of 21, 22. I knew Freddie was very good in the academy but I never knew he would get to that level, but you look at the team and there are a huge number of players that have played top-flight rugby in different leagues or who have played internationally.

“I keep in touch a little bit but it is pretty tough. I’ve not been back since I left England in 2020 and went to La Rochelle. It has been a while so I have lost a bit of contact with them but I try to watch their games, especially when it is international. I sit down and I’m supporting them all the way.”

It was the delayed restart of development-level rugby in England after the lockdown that left Glynn teasing out options in his native France and choosing La Rochelle. There were a few teething difficulties. For instance, his French wasn’t fluent when he initially returned. “It wasn’t perfect by any means, wasn’t perfect at all, but I was able to get some French lessons provided by the club for foreign players and now I’m pretty much getting by.

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“People can understand me, I can understand then and I’m now doing a business school in French in La Rochelle,” he said before owning up to one particular slip of the tongue. “At one point in one of the espoirs sessions, I said, ‘Je suis excitée’ which apparently means ‘I am horny’ which I wasn’t aware of and everyone started laughing.”

With his language now on point, weight and kicking are other issues Glynn has diligently addressed to help ensure he was ready for last month’s first La Rochelle Top 14 start. “I’m not 83kgs anymore, I’m 88kgs. That is the weight I like to play at and between 87 and 90 is where I will stay.

“I don’t really want to go any higher because a big part of my game is trying to be as quick as possible, taking gaps and taking on the defence, so being heavier than that would stop me from being able to do that. When I was 80, 83, I did a bit of research and saw the sort of weight the best tens were at and what I felt was best for me, so I put some good weight and my body pretty much tells me the weight I need to be at.”

As for the consistency of his kicking, he concluded: “At Leicester I was able to work quite a bit with George Ford, kicking with him and that kind of stuff, doing some sessions with him and when his brother Joe was at Leicester. I learned a lot of things I still use now and then from there I looked at Owen Farrell, Handre Pollard, those kinds of guys, seeing what they did on the field and for sure you are going to try and replicate them.

“Kicking can be a great tool for a team if it is done right, especially with the 50/22 rule coming into play. If a team can kick well and kick effectively in the right areas then it helps a lot. You see Leicester did it quite a lot last year and it won them the title. Ford, Ben Youngs and JVP, those guys kicking well really put pressure on teams and helped them get into the right areas and put the pressure on again.”

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