Northampton wing Tom Collins reaps the rewards of move Down Under

Tom Collins would advocate it as a career development plan for talented rookies; graduate from the local club academy, but then go abroad for a while, rather than waiting in line for senior selection.
The 24-year-old wing is Northampton through and through, but it took a stint in Australia to enhance his credentials as a home-town hero for the Saints. A few months at Eddie Jones
's old club in Sydney, Randwick, worked wonders in expanding his horizons and his rugby repertoire.
It was two years ago that Collins took up the option of earning valuable game-time Down Under. A combination of injuries and form dips had slowed his progress at Northampton, after an initial breakthrough five years ago. He had gone out on loan to Coventry, Moseley and Rotherham, but the time at Randwick really transformed him.
It was worth putting up with a 'lot of c**p' - as a Pom competing with talkative Australians - to reap the benefits of learning to trust his instincts.
'Being a Northampton boy, I've only ever really known here, so it was nice to get that experience and bringing it back here helped a lot,' he said.
'I would recommend it, 100 per cent. I found that when I came through the academy here, it was really difficult because I was so close to being in the team, but I would be travelling (reserve) or on the bench most weeks. In my first two years, I didn't play a lot of rugby. I probably played 20 or 22 games in two years, which isn't a lot as a 19 or 20-year-old.
'I wish I'd gone over (to Australia) a bit earlier. I learned to adapt and back myself, because they just play really. In my first few years here, everything was so structured. Over there, whatever happens, the ball bounces and you just play rugby - you don't think about things so much. That helped me a lot. It is very structured over here, but when you get an opportunity to counter-attack in broken play, you can have a go.' 
Collins has certainly been having a go this season. The post-training attire of Bob Marley T-shirt and flip-flops - before a quick change for the camera - hinted at a free spirit and he has been expressing himself in a Northampton team which has been reviving and thriving under Kiwi director of rugby, Chris Boyd. The local lad on the wing is in contention for Premiership Try of the Season for one eye-catching, long-range strike against Sale.
If that showcased his running threat, so did a recent hat-trick at Newcastle, which propelled the Saints to a crucial victory and maintained their surge towards the play-offs. He didn't leave Tyneside with much to show for his feat though. 'That was my second hat-trick and you don't get to keep the match ball,' he said. 
'I wish I'd just taken it now! All you get is a pat on the back really.' It would have been different if he had followed the established family sporting path into football. Both his father and grandfather represented Northampton Town in the round-ball game, but when Collins reached decision time in his teens, he went his own, separate way.
'I remember coming down to Cobblers (Northampton Town FC) a few times to watch my dad play,' he said. 'But the main place I remember watching him was at Rushden & Diamonds, in the Conference. It's great having people in the family who have played sport; my dad and my granddad. Both give me a lot of feedback about my performances and they are the first people I go to and talk about things with.
'Dad played up front; he was a big striker. My granddad played defensive and centre midfield. He was tiny - a niggly little player! It was good to grow up being involved in sport my whole life. I was always into football and rugby was just a thing on the side - it wasn't really too serious. Then when I got to 16, I had to make a choice between the two and I chose rugby.
'I had to teach them all (family) how to play rugby. None of them had a clue about it. My step-dad had introduced me to rugby when I was about four or five and if he hadn't, I would probably have been football through and through.'
When Collins first rose to prominence, Northampton were a major force and they went on to win the title in his first full season; 2013-14. Now, he senses that a new era of success is in the offing, as Boyd's team prepare for clash with Exeter at Sandy Park, knowing that victory would clinch a play-off place.
'I've been here since we won the Premiership title and it's been such an up-and-down period from then on. Saints are a huge team - they were feared back then and I think it's starting to get that way again now.' 

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