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'I'd say I'm a triple threat': Versatile young back Millie Hyett on her career so far

By Matt Merritt
Millie Hyett of England Women Under 20s - Juan Gasparini/JMP - 15/01/24 - RUGBY - Bisham Abbey - Bisham, England - England Women Under 20s Training Session

2024 feels like it has only just begun, but already it feels like it might be Millie Hyett’s year. The Gloucester-Hartpury back has found her way into a Red Roses training camp, been named in the starting line-up for her club for the first time and bagged a try in the same game.

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The fact that she has done this while studying at (and turning out in the BUCS league for) Hartpury College is all the more impressive. Given she’s managed so much by mid-February, who knows where she might be by the time we get to December?

When I caught up with Hyett in January, she quietly mentioned it was the first time she had been interviewed, but you wouldn’t know it, she didn’t shy away from any questions and spoke about her own game with an impressive frankness.

It’s no surprise that she has played most of her rugby to date at fly-half, a position that needs to be filled by players who are comfortable taking control of the game and understanding the capabilities of their team.

“I’d say I’m a triple threat. I’ve got a good running game, I can kick and I can make those big passes,” she tells me when I ask what her strengths are. “I don’t think you find that in many people, especially in our age group, and even throughout the Premiership Women’s Rugby [PWR]. I think I can be unpredictable. It makes me hard to defend. Am I going to run? Will I look for the pass or even kick it behind the defender.”

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More recently, she’s finding her feet in a new position. “I’ve played ten my whole life” Hyett shared. “But I’m really enjoying 13. I’ve only played it for two camps now, but I am really enjoying it. I’ve played at 12 for Gloucester and at BUCS, but 13 is nice, it’s very different, a lot more hard lines but I do enjoy it.”

It’s testament to the trust placed in her by LJ Lewis, the former Wasps head coach who now heads up the England Women Under 20s. She’s ably assisted by Saracens’ own Sarah McKenna and the latter apparently suggested the change of role for Hyett and has been supporting her to learn the intricacies of outside centre and particularly the different approach to defence required.

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“It’s definitely a lot different to defending at ten. A lot more stressful to defend. But in attack, it’s a bit more laid back, just a bit more running. It’s good to have like two first receivers on a pitch, whether the other is at 12, 13 or even 15. I do think what McKenna and LJ are doing in helping every player find the right position for them.”

With Hyett, Harlequins’ Ella Cromack, Carmela Morrall from Loughborough Lighting, Amelia Macdougall of Saracens, and Exeter’s Sophie Langford, who already has experience at this level, Lewis could easily roll out a backline with three or four players capable of switching between fly-half and the centres of even fullback.

Given McKenna’s reputation as a Swiss Army Knife of a player, you can imagine she is thrilled to be coaching the next generation to be just as versatile.

“She’s a great coach. I really enjoy being coached by her, she knows her detail to the tee. She feeds back to us really well and we’re all learning so much. Because she’s played in all of those positions, she can help all of us and understands what we need depending on what position we are playing on the day. It’s really useful having a back coach with such a diverse career.”

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It’s obviously paying off for Hyett in particular as, with a lack of experienced fly-halves available for the Red Roses, she found herself joining their camp, called up on January 23rd and spending a week with the team.

Just a couple of weeks later Gloucester-Hartpury named her in their starting 15 for a league game for the first time and when the game rolled around on the 11th of February, Hyett marked the occasion with a try, combining effortlessly with Mo Hunt to open her account.

Now Hyett can look ahead to a series of games for the under 20’s including a warmup fixture against the British Army.

“That’ll be a really good training game for us” Hyett mentions, weighing up the benefit of playing against the forces team. “Going into the France and Wales games… they’re going to be hard games, so it’s good for us to get some like minutes in, but also the Army are going to be a physical test.

“They’ll be older than us, and more experienced, but their skills might not be as good as ours so that’s where we can really nail down our strengths and make sure we can execute our game plans perfectly.”

That game will lead into an away fixture in France and a home game hosting Wales, with exact details of both games still to be confirmed.

For now, though, Hyett is focused on working on her skills and concentrating on the next step with one eye on emulating Emily Scarratt “She’s such a great player isn’t she? So solid at 13, but you can put her at 10 or 12… she’s good anywhere she plays.”

Hyett has a long way to go before her career matches up to what Scaz has achieved, but given what she has already done I certainly wouldn’t bet against her.

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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