This year’s Rugby World Cup came too soon for Mike Haley but the Sale Sharks full-back has been taking notes as he aims to build on last season’s breakthrough campaign in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Haley was thrown into the deep end last year and emerged with flying colours, making the Sale No.15 jersey his own and regularly outperforming some of Aviva Premiership Rugby’s most experienced stars.
And though Sale suffered a heavy defeat to Saracens in Round One of the new season, he made 100 metres and three clean breaks with 21 carries – according to Opta stats for Aviva Premiership Rugby,
England exited the World Cup in the pool stages after a frustrating campaign but Haley, only 21, will surely be in the reckoning come 2019 should he build on his impressive start.
Indeed, it is not just the necessary physical attributes that Haley has in his locker – he’s a self-confessed student of the game.
And he said: “The World Cup has been great because I’ve been able to watch all the games and different styles of full-back and how they adapt their style to each game – that’s something I can really learn from.
“Watching all the full-backs under the high ball is brilliant and then watching someone like Nehe Milner-Skudder and his attacking play, how he uses his feet.
“It’s about learning and what you think you can take from one of those players then try to bring it to your own game.
“I think full-back now is very much a position where you need to be stable, like the rock at the back because a lot of pressure will come onto you. So if you’re very stable and you get an upper hand there then the team can
build an attack.
“If you look at all the semi-finalists now they’ve all got a great full-back. They’ll know whether to send the ball long, do an up-and-under, tackle, it’s that decision making.
“You’ve also go to control your wingers, speak to your 13, you’ve got to be that centrepiece just to make sure everything’s ticking.
“If you go quiet, no-one really knows where you are at the back of the field because they can’t turn around.
“No one wants to be sketchy about what’s going on behind. They want to know that if anything goes on there the full-back will there to cover up.”
Sale will look to kick-start their season on Friday against a Worcester Warriors side that sent shockwaves around the league after dispatching Northampton Saints in their first game following promotion.
And though Haley has again been given the nod at full-back, he insists that he is far from the complete package at this stage of his career.
“This year if I’m going to be getting the ball a lot I need to cut out silly errors,” Haley added. “I made maybe one or two on the weekend and if I want to progress I need to cut them out completely.
“Though it’s weird because I’d rather play badly and we win. It’s more of a team ethic we’ve got going at the moment.”
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