Cape Town - Wallaby wing Henry Speight’s season has been pockmarked by injury. He fractured a frontal bone above his eye during the Brumbies’ March defeat to the Stormers in Super Rugby which saw him sidelined for eight weeks. And, in marking his return to the playing field, the 28-year-old flyer sustained a grade three medial ligament injury to his right knee.
The Suva-born star was ruled out for a further 12 weeks and few gave him even a sniff of making the trip to the Rio Olympics to represent Team Australia. However, the man whose mother was taken from him at the tender age of eight and who lived with his grandfather owing to the fact that his father was often travelling as a prominent Fijian politician, has learnt to roll with the proverbial punches.
He simply does not allow setbacks to define him, and made a quicker than expected recovery from injury. Despite the doubters, Speight boarded the plan to Brazil albeit as a travelling reserve. The speedster, who has played five Test matches for his adopted country, failed to earn any game time during the showpiece, however, described the experience as “awesome” in an exclusive interview with Sport24.
“It was unique to be part of such a special sporting atmosphere and to be around thousands of athletes from around the world competing in different sporting codes was memorable,” he said.
“Prior to the Rio Olympics, I had never attended a multi-sport event and the biggest stage I had previously experienced was the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the United Kingdom.”
While Speight’s short to medium term future appears to be in the XV-man game, after he effectively ruled himself out of contention for the 2018 Commonwealth Games by saying that he wants to focus on holding down a starting berth for both club and country, the outside back credits Sevens for improving his fitness levels and honing his efficacy on attack.
“The one thing Sevens has given me is a spark back into my attacking play. I am now even more clinical in terms of one-on-one situations,” he noted, which is bad news for his opponents when he next takes to the field.
“I used to be a one-trick pony,” Speight told Sport24 matter-of-factly, “but I would say that I’m now a much more balanced player in terms of attack and defence. I’m able to read the game situation better because I have really improved my knowledge and understanding of when and where to be during games.”
Although Speight has failed to crack Michael Cheika’s starting XV for Saturday’s Rugby Championship showdown against the Springboks in Pretoria, with Dane Haylett-Petty and Reece Hodge preferred on the respective wings, he expects a tough-as-teak Test against a wounded Springbok side. Allister Coetzee’s charges will be desperate to snap a three-match losing streak after dishing up an underwhelming serving of rugby against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Speight expects a backlash from the Springboks come Saturday.
“I believe the Springboks will be a different beast this weekend,” the mild-mannered Speight noted.
“Coming back from three away losses in a row during the Rugby Championship, South Africa have pride on the line playing at home. We are certainly expecting a big challenge from the Springboks this weekend and cannot, for a moment, take them lightly.”
Earlier in the week, Australian captain Stephen Moore described Loftus Versfeld Stadium as a “very hostile environment” in which to play. Speight concurred.
“Loftus has always been a tough place for us to visit. The crowd is passionate and the atmosphere is electric... We’ve been trying to prepare as well as we can this week in order to come away with the spoils.”
Saturday's Test at Loftus is scheduled for 17:05.