Bryn Hall is now a three-time title winner with the Crusaders and playing some of the best rugby of his career but the irony of all this recent success is not lost on him.
He was a debutant for the Blues in 2013 but due to a broken jaw early in the season while playing club rugby for Northcote he found himself relegated to the sidelines. A year later and now fully recovered he forced his way into the starting lineup with some great performances that prompted some to call for him to be looked at for higher honors.
But another downswing in his career came along in the form of a broken right foot, once again the result of playing pre-season club rugby. This saw him out injured for the entire 2015 Super Rugby Season.
Roughly twelve months later he learned from then Head Coach, Tana Umaga, that he was superfluous to the franchises future plans
“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.”
This was a massively hurtful blow to Hall who had grown up his whole life following the Blues and even representing them at age-group levels.
“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.”
With the signing of Pulu who was a two cap All Black it gave the Blues three scrum halves in the form of himself, Tasman’s Billy Guyton and Northland’s Sam Nock. Nock incidentally is the only one of this trio still representing the franchise with Pulu now based in Japan and Guyton suffering with a career ending concussion.
However the timing of Hall’s leaving the Blues proved to be absolutely perfect for him to move to 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.”
After four dreary seasons with the Blues finishing tenth or lower on the Super Rugby log Hall suddenly found himself thrust to heights never before dreamed of as a rather young and new looking Crusaders with Scott Robertson now at the helm claimed the Super Rugby Cup in 2017.
They did it again in 2018 and then managed the three-peat in 2019 with Hall getting the opportunity to start in all three finals. This of course was followed by the Crusaders winning of Super Rugby Aotearoa last month to round out Hall’s best four years of his career to date.
“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.”
Although expectations are part of it there are no guarantees in sport. Sometimes you can come into an environment which seems to be so positive and successful from the outside but in reality can be quite daunting and disappointing. That, however, thankfully was not the case for Hall.
“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.”
“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.”
Instead of having to rely solely for position-specific mentoring on the more experienced playing partners at the Blues Hall was provided with the luxury of endless insight from long time coach and former first five Brad Mooar on how he saw the inside back’s role 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 was never any doubt about the latent talent Hall possessed during his early years with the Blues but this has now been brought to the fore and finely tuned with his time at the Crusaders providing them with a blistering one-two punch in his combination with fellow half-back Mitchell Drummond.
The two have shared the workload over the last 3 seasons and have grown in stature considerably during that time period. The fact that they were called up to All Blacks training together towards the end of 2018 is a testament as to how far the pair had progressed.
“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 has managed to secure what could be called a “guest appearance” off the bench for the All Blacks in their drubbing of Japan on the 2018 year end tour, Hall unfortunately didn’t make it off the training field. However he went about his work with all the zeal and professionalism that he does even when not selected for the Crusaders match-day team.
His game is improving year on year with the Crusaders and he’s determined to one day don the All Black jumper that he came so close to two years ago.
“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.”
He’s the first one to admit that although it wasn’t the easiest thing to deal with, the Blues letting him go was probably the best thing that could have happened and has worked wonders for his game.
“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.”