All Blacks vs Italy: Jayden Hayward's heartbreaking journey to test rugby

New Zealand-born Italian international Jayden Hayward has revealed the heartbreaking journey that will see him play test rugby against the All Blacks in Rome on Sunday (NZ time).

Raised in Hawera, Hayward represented Taranaki at provincial level, before stepping up to Super Rugby for the Highlanders in 2009-10 and Hurricanes in 2011-12.

Limited game time in Wellington saw him move across the Tasman to Australia, where he rejuvenated his career as a fullback for the Western Force.

But just as his gameplay rose to a new level and a possible call-up into the Wallabies squad beckoned, tragedy struck for Hayward and wife Ana.

"At the time, my wife and I were going through a really hard time - we had a stillbirth," Hayward told Newshub exclusively.

"It felt it was the right time to head overseas. It was easier on us, if we could go away and deal with it as family - we needed a change.

Jayden Hayward playing for the Western Force in 2014.
Jayden Hayward playing for the Western Force in 2014. Photo credit: Getty

"Obviously, we had a great support crew at the Force. When it happened, they were all there for us and we'd like to have stayed, but at that time, we thought it was best to go deal with it ourselves, go try something new overseas and move past it."

That led to the move to Treviso in northern Italy, where he has played since.

Benetton is coached by former Taranaki coach Kieran Crowley, with former Highlanders captain Nasi Manu, Waikato hooker Hame Faiva, and former Northland and current Kiwi-Italian lock Dean Budd - who will also start against the All Blacks on Sunday - also on the playing roster.

"We decided to come to Treviso, and now I've been here for four and a half years," said Hayward.

"My wife and I managed to have another beautiful boy in 2016 - he'll be three in January. Everything has come out good.

"As a family, we've grown. I would like to think, as a rugby player, I've grown also."

Moving to Italy came with challenges, as adapting to a different culture and language was a struggle, but that only made Hayward a stronger person on and off the field.

Heartache from the stillbirth meant test rugby was far from Hayward’s agenda when he arrived in Italy.

After three years, the now 31-year-old was named out of the blue by coach Conor O'Shea last November.

"When I first signed here, it never crossed my mind and didn’t really think about it. It wasn't till a few months after that, I thought if I was here for three years, then I could be eligible for Italy.

"I didn't know anything until they named the team for the November tour. I knew I was eligible and then I saw my name on the team, and it was exciting.

"I remember, when I first played for Italy, singing the national anthem was emotional for me and just being out there representing Italy was a very special moment for myself."

Over the last few weeks, several Kiwi-born players have faced the All Blacks for the first time, including Brad Shields with England and Bundee Aki with Ireland, while the likes of Scotland and Wales also have NZ-born players in their teams.

Hayward will join that list, when he faces New Zealand in his 12th test for Italy, after debuting against Fiji on November 11 in Catania. The occasion will be extra special, as his father, wife and son will all be in attendance.

Jayden Hayward playing for Taranaki with Beauden Barrett in the background.
Jayden Hayward playing for Taranaki with Beauden Barrett in the background. Photo credit: Photosport

"This is a pretty special moment for myself," said Hayward. "It is going to be one of my highlights of my career, playing against the All Blacks.

"It will be something I'll treasure for the rest of my life and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

"I always wanted to play for the All Blacks, but not everyone can, so if there is an opportunity to represent another nation or a chance to play international rugby, I'm all for it.

"People will always say, 'how did he get to play for another country if they're not from there', but if they go over there and embrace their culture and play for that nation, I don't see why It can't be done."

Hayward has one goal out on the field against the three-time world champions.

"I was playing for Taranaki, when Beauden Barrett was a wee young fella coming through and now look at him," he joked.

all blacks lineup

"He's a world-class player, and hopefully I can go out there and get into him a few times."

The next big goal would be lifting Italy to their first-ever win over the All Blacks.


Join us at 3am Sunday for live updates of the All Blacks vs Italy in Rome.

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