There’s more than a touch of irony to the fact that four seasons on from his departure from the Blues, Bryn Hall is a three-time title winner and playing some of the best rugby of his career for the Crusaders.
Hall debuted for the Blues in 2013 but was quickly sidelined thanks to a broken jaw suffered during a club rugby match for Northcote. A year later, now fully recovered, Hall was back in action and found his way into the starting lineup, putting out some performances which saw the odd call for the halfback to be elevated into the national set-up.
Momentum was lost in 2015, however, when Hall jumped back into club rugby during the Super Rugby pre-season and broke his right foot, invaliding him for the entire Blues campaign.
Not much more than 12 months later, Hall learned from head coach Tana Umaga that his time with the Blues would be coming to an end.
“Whenever you got pulled into Tana’s office just by yourself, usually it wasn’t great news,” Hall told RugbyPass.
“We’d just finished playing the Reds. We’d drawn and I was heading into Tana’s office thinking I might be getting dropped for the following week – I wasn’t too sure what was happening.
“He sits me down and he said, ‘Bryn mate, I want to tell you first that we’re signing Augustine Pulu. We want to keep you but we can’t due to contract restrictions. We’re just giving you a chance now to tell you and to let you know that we’ll be moving in a different direction.’”
It was a massive blow for Hall – who grew up following the Blues and representing their age-grade sides.
“It was tough to hear that at the time but I knew it was a business and out of respect for me as a player, Tana came to me and told me before [Pulu’s signing] was announced and gave me the opportunity to look for another club.
“That’s one of the things I really respect about Tana; he was always honest with me. That’s what you love as a player.”
Pulu, a two-cap All Black and half-centurion with the Chiefs, joined Tasman’s Billy Guyton and Northland’s Sam Nock at the Blues. Nock is the only one of that trio to still represent the Auckland franchise with Pulu now based in Japan and Guyton hanging up his boots in 2018 due to concussion.
Meanwhile, Hall struck a deal with the Crusaders.
“Pretty much straight away, my agent called me and said, ‘Hey look, Andy Ellis is moving on. He’s heading over to Japan and the Crusaders are keen for you to come down.’
“So yeah, it’s amazing how things work out, you know? The disappointment… but then it led to where I am right now, where I’m a much better footy player and I’ve had a pretty good tenure down in Christchurch.”
“I’ve been gone a decade now but those memories are still embanked right in my core."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 15, 2020
Following four seasons finishing tenth or lower on the ladder with the Blues, Hall’s move south brought immediate results, with the Crusaders crowned Super Rugby champions in 2017.
The results were the same in 2018 and 2019, with Hall starting in three successive finals.
“If I didn’t leave the Blues, even though I was disappointed at the time, I never would have had the opportunity to come down here and just become such a better footy player,” Hall said.
“I’ve just always had so much respect for the Crusaders as a club, the success that they’ve had. You’d always watch it from afar and be wondering, ‘Why are they so successful? What’s different than anywhere else in the world or the country?’
“The decision to move down was an easy one. I’m was going to be heading to a place where I’d improve as a player and there would be the possibility of becoming an All Black. There was a possibility of playing playoff footy too, which, as a competitive rugby player, you obviously want to be doing. I was just really excited.”
Expectations are one thing but there are no guarantees in sport. Sometimes an environment which seems so positive and successful from the outside can be disappointing in reality. That certainly wasn’t the case for Hall, however.
“Pretty early on I had a pretty good understanding that I’d made the right decision. I’m a guy that loves attention to detail – why we’re doing things and why we’re being tested the way we are – and the coaches give you all the attention to detail you need. As a player who thrives on that kind of information, if just fitted me to a T.
“If I think back to my 2015 and 2016 years – and this is no dag on the Blues – but the way I was thinking about the game probably just stunted my growth a little bit.
“My first two years, Piri Weepu was really good around game management and understanding and how to manipulate opposition players. I loved that and I learnt so much; I just tried to pick his brain on everything.
“But then for the next two years, I just didn’t get that kind of thinking and understanding and my game probably just stalled a little bit.
“It was a dud year really – in a whole lot of ways.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 27, 2020
“When I ended up going down south, that thinking that I did in my first couple of years of my career, it was every single day. It was perfect for me; I knew I’d made the right decision.”
While Hall had to rely on the more experienced halfbacks in the squad for position-specific mentoring at the Blues, long-time coach and former first five Brad Mooar was able to provide endless insight on the duties of an inside back at the Crusaders.
“I think if you don’t have coaches who specifically know what a 9 should be doing, then it’s obviously tough. I had a great rapport with Piri and Jimmy Cowan was also there, so I got to learn off him as well. But I think once they left, it just kind of stunted me a little bit.
“I’d never, ever had a halfback specific coach until Brad at the Crusaders. Leon MacDonald did the outside backs and Brad did the inside backs. Every single day, we could connect with someone who knew exactly what we needed to grow. Once a week, we’d have our own halfback drills that were just for you so if you think about the number of repetitions that we have through the weeks and through the whole time, you’re just continually going to get better.
“I’d also have clips that were just for me and my understanding of what it is to be a 9. For me, that’s probably one of the reasons why I’ve grown so much and become a better player, a better halfback.”
There’s no doubt that while Hall had obvious talent during his early seasons with the Blues, his craft has been hugely fine-tuned since arriving at the Crusaders and forming an impressive one-two punch with fellow halfback Mitchell Drummond.
The two have shared the scrumhalf load over the last three seasons, grown considerably over that timeframe, and the pair were even called into the All Blacks together at the end of 2018.
“Drummy and I, we’ve gone hammer and tongs for the whole time that I’ve been down here,” Hall said.
“We’re both competitive, we both want to be playing. We try and set ourselves up to try and do that individually but whoever plays or whatever the team looks like, we’re the first guys who’ll say, ‘Look mate, what do you need from me for this week? How can I help you get better? What can I do to help you out to prepare?’”
While Drummond managed a guest appearance off the bench in the All Blacks’ thrashing of Japan on the 2018 end of year tour, Hall was restricted to the training field – but he went about his business just as he does if he’s not named in the Crusaders match-day team ahead of a game.
The 28-year-old’s game is still improving year upon year with the Crusaders and Hall naturally hopes to one day don the black jersey that he came so close to wearing two years prior.
“It’s a massive driving factor, the fact that I had an opportunity to be a part of that squad and to have a look what it looks like – it was great,” Hall said. “It’s definitely a fire that burns pretty strong in me and I think it will continue until I get the opportunity to represent New Zealand.
“And whether it does or doesn’t happen, I’ll work every single day to try and get there and to try improve on my craft and the aspects of my game that I think I need to work on.”
Looking back on his departure from the Blues, Hall is happy to admit that it’s probably one of the best things that’s ever happened for his game. Still, that didn’t necessarily make it any easier at the time.
“I won’t lie, it adds a bit more fuel to the fire when you’re not wanted somewhere,” Hall admitted.
“Every time I had an opportunity to play the Blues, it wasn’t personal… But you’d just always want to have a really good game – and I think that’ll always continue.
“But there are definitely no grudges. I understand that it’s a business and they just went in a different direction. It’s worked out really well for me. It’s probably worked out great for them as well.”
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