Sky Live: Bedford Blues’ USA international Will Hooley out to clip Newcastle Falcons’ wings
A rain-soaked November afternoon at Doncaster’s Castle Park is probably about as far removed as a player can get from the rarefied atmosphere of a Rugby World Cup in Japan.
That was exactly the introduction back into Championship rugby Will Hooley was given last Saturday, however, when he made his first appearance for Bedford Blues this season after returning from international duty with the USA.
Despite the Blues suffering a 22-18 defeat in the wet and mud, Hooley was pleased to be back and felt the nature of the game was exactly what he needed to get his feet back on the ground after living the dream for several weeks.
Bedford vs Newcastle Falcons
November 9, 2019, 3:15pm
“I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit of a shock – going from Osaka to Doncaster is a little bit different,” Hooley told Sky Sports. “I probably needed that game just to readjust myself.
“Coming back from the World Cup, I had a bit of rehab to get done as well and in all aspects reprogramming myself not just back into the Bedford model, but also back to the reality now the World Cup is over.
“It’s not the easiest and it’s a bit of a comedown, but it’s great to be back with the guys and I’m hoping to help them get on the right side of results.”
Born in Cambridge and having previously represented England at U18 and U20 level, Hooley qualifies to represent the USA through his grandmother and has been a regular in the Eagles’ squad since earning his first international cap as a replacement against Canada in February last year.
Drawn in Pool C at this year’s World Cup alongside Tier One nations England, France and Argentina, plus Tonga, the USA suffered defeats in all four games. Nevertheless, sharing a global stage with some of the best in the sport was an experience Hooley will never forget.
“The thing which was the most joyful about it was Japan, as a nation, was so warm and welcoming, and it made it really easy to be in that country and feel as if you could enjoy yourself, knowing you’re getting looked after,” Hooley said.
“The profile of the games, from the game-days, to preparation, to the warm-up in the stadium, to the drums that beat you out onto the pitch, it’s all very well and good saying it’s just another game but it isn’t really.
“It is as soon as it kicks off, but ultimately it’s the big event and as much as I was nervous, especially as soon as you hear those drums, I was so excited because this is what it’s really all about.
“The thing which was the most joyful about it was Japan, as a nation, was so warm and welcoming, and it made it really easy to be in that country and feel as if you could enjoy yourself.”
“Those experiences are there forever and as a team we were disappointed with how we performed, but personally there was some good stuff to take away and the experience as a whole was one I’ll never forget.”
Hooley’s own tournament was disrupted by a head injury sustained in his country’s first game of the tournament against England. He recovered to make appearances against Argentina and Tonga, although it is not the first time the 25-year-old has suffered the effects of concussion.
His second season with Premiership outfit Exeter Chiefs, who he joined in 2015 after coming through the Northampton Saints youth system, saw him undergo a lengthy recover process after suffering a particularly serious concussion in November 2016.
Dropping down to the Championship with Bedford has seen him thrive in the No. 10 shirt under the watchful eye of long-serving director of rugby Mike Rayer.
Mark Atkinson, Billy Twelvetress, Josh Bassett and even current England captain Owen Farrell – who had a short spell at the Blues on loan from Saracens – are among those who have proven their worth to Premiership clubs at Goldington Road in recent years and Hooley hopes to follow them.
“Those guys embedded their skills there and probably just found their confidence,” Hooley said. “Rugby is quite a fickle game sometimes and can be quite subjective.
“One day you’re a hero, the next day, unfortunately, you’re not and the biggest thing you need is confidence. The Bedford environment is one which allows you to try to express yourself, which is great for individuals and hopefully as a team.
“The Championship itself is such a competitive league and, especially as a half-back, it tests you both physically and mentally. It’s given me the opportunity to get regular game-time and that’s been a massive positive.”
A strong performance at home to unbeaten Championship leaders Newcastle Falcons, where his opposite number could well be former England international Toby Flood, live on Sky Sports this Saturday represents a perfect opportunity for Hooley to show what he can do.
Surprisingly relegated from the Premiership last season after qualifying for the semi-finals in 2018, the Falcons are expected to make an immediate return to the top flight and have made a flying start to life back in the second tier.
But Hooley and his team-mates are confident of springing a shock as the Blues aim to recover from a tricky start to the league campaign which has seen them win just one of their opening four Championship matches after finishing third in the 2018/19 season.
“They’re (Newcastle) probably very aware there is one game in the whole season each other team would really love to win – and that’s the game against them,” Hooley said.
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