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Rugby’s code breaker

CENTRE OF ATTENTION: Eastmond’s Bath team-mates congratulate him after scoring an incredible solo effort against London Wasps in September

ONLY A select few players have successfully made the transition from rugby league to rugby union and Kyle Eastmond is on the right path to join the distinguished group.

The likes of World Cup winner Jason Robinson, Andy Farrell and more recently Chris Ashton achieved the rare feat of gaining international honours in both codes and Eastmond could soon be added to that prestigious list.

The 23-year-old from Oldham played rugby league for St Helens before switching codes in 2011 to join Bath, where his performances at club level were rewarded with a January call-up to England’s second string side, the England Saxons.

While the 5’, 6” Eastmond firmly has his feet on the ground, the multifaceted back – who played for England’s rugby league national team on four occasions – is also targeting international honours for the Red Rose in rugby union.

He told the Voice of Sport: That’s [playing for England] an ambition of mine but first things first; I’m going to try and work as hard as I can here with the Saxons and play as well as I can. If these things happen and I progress then I’ll be very happy.

“It’s my first time going into the Saxons and it’s been a good couple of weeks. I’ve really enjoyed it and that can only be a good thing.”

CREATIVE: The 23-year-old in action

During his league days Eastmond, who possesses an excellent kicking game and blistering speed, played in the creative position of scrum-half but at Bath he has played on the wing and as a centre.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has indicated that he could possibly play at full-back or even in the playmaker role at fly-half, which begs the question: what is Eastmond’s preferred position on the park?

“To be fair I’m not 100 per cent sure on where I’m going to play or whatever,” he said. “All I can say is as long as I keep my attributes from rugby league, as long as I keep them involved in my rugby union game, I’ll definitely be happy with that. I always say when the coach thinks it’s right to put me in a certain position then that’s great.”

The most obvious differences between league and union are that there are 15 players on the field in union compared to 13 in league, scrums are uncontested in league and teams have to relinquish possession of the ball in league once a side has been tackled six times.

STARTING AS A SAINT: Eastmond during his St Helens days

But thanks to the impact that the likes of Eastmond have made in union, league players are in high demand by Premiership clubs and Eastmond reckons it is the attacking prowess of league players that makes them such hot commodities.

“We’re used to having that freedom to try and break the line or try to run away from a defender. But in rugby union you have to think a little more because you can get the ball turned over so these instincts do help but obviously you’ve got to curb it a little bit because you’re playing a different sport,” explains Eastmond.

“I think there are attributes that rugby league players can take into rugby union, the support play is massive in rugby league.”

Due to their similar diminutive appearance, rapid pace and try scoring exploits, Eastmond has faced numerous comparisons to dual-code international Robinson, which Eastmond appreciates but refuses to accept.

He added: “The guy’s a legend and was a great player in both codes. But it’s not something that I ever like to think about or look into at all because he’s a legend and I’m just starting out. I’m trying to carve out my own career and hopefully do myself proud. I can’t really compare myself to Jason Robinson.”

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