Peter Lydon capitalises on French connection as he quickly finds his rhythm in Paris
Stade Francais player is set to see action in tonight’s Challenge Cup tie against Lusitanos
Peter Lydon playing for Kilkenny College during the Leinster Schools Senior Cup quarter-final in 2010. The outhalf was invited for a trial at Stade Francais in Paris last season. Photograph: Inpho
Peter Lydon embarked on a road less travelled, one where ambition and circumstance colluded to provide an opportunity to pursue a career as a professional rugby player. Tonight he’ll get a chance to progress that ambition by playing for Stade Francais in an Amlin Challenge Cup match against Portuguese side Lusitanos.
The 20-year-old, Dutch-born, Kilkenny College-educated, outhalf nominally shares an apartment in the 16th Arrondissement in Paris with young scrumhalf Clement Daguin, both members of the Espoirs (under-23) squad and the Academy at Stade Francais.
Daguin flits between his parents’ home in the French capital – it is closer to where he goes to college – and his shared lodgings but he was on hand to help his roommate settle in for the first month on arrival from Ireland during the summer.
Ireland and Lions outhalf Johnny Sexton’s move to Racing Metro 92 commandeered the headlines, Lydon’s a footnote in comparison, but there is more than a smattering of shared values, at the core of which is a desire to make the best possible career in the sport.
Lydon’s back story reveals the tale of a talented young sportsman who might have turned towards hurling or soccer with genuine expectation.
Born in The Hague – he is one of three children, alongside Martin and Brigid – his parents, Michael and Margot, moved the family to Kilkenny, just shy of Peter’s fifth birthday.
Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody taught him in fifth class in St Patrick’s National School in both the classroom and on the pitch. Lydon hurled with James Stephens until he was 12. A contemporary in the rival Dicksboro team was current Kilkenny midfielder Cillian Buckley.
He played soccer with Evergreen, his ability earning him a place in the FAI Regional Emerging Talent Football Academy. His coach, Paddy O’Driscoll at Kilkenny RFC, a club he joined as a six-year-old, was to have a pronounced influence on his development as a rugby player. Three sports diluted his ability to commit time wise, so hurling was the casualty.
Lydon spent three campaigns, fourth year to sixth year, as outhalf on the Kilkenny College SCT, mimicking the achievement of his predecessor in the jersey Craig Ronaldson, who this summer signed a professional contract with Connacht.
He understudied Cathal Marsh at Leinster Under-18 Schools level and when the latter was promoted straight to the under-20s representative side the following season, Lydon was first-choice outhalf for Leinster Under-19s, before resuming his back-up role the following year.
He played for the Lansdowne Under-21 team but in the summer of 2012 was approached by Nigel Osborne to join Seapoint who operated in Division 2A of the Ulster Bank League. Lydon had spent four summers, first year to fourth year in school, at Osborne’s French and Rugby camp in Biarritz.
He understood Osborne’s philosophy on the game, knew he would be encouraged to run the team and it would allow him to measure his progress in adult terms. He could also maintain his studies, English and Geography, in UCD.
In 15 matches for Seapoint he scored 187 points, 44 penalties, 19 conversions, four drop goals and a try. Lydon knew Osborne had good connections in French rugby. He takes up the narrative. “I was in college on a Wednesday when I received a text from Nigel asking me if I could go to Paris for a trial with Stade Francais on the Friday. His contact at the club was Richard Pool Jones.
“My dad was away at the time so I flew out on my own the following day and stayed with one of the players. Stade Francais were playing Clermont Auvergne that weekend and on the Friday I was driven out to the Stade de France by [former Leinster prop] Stan Wright.
“Diego Dominguez [Argentinian-born, former Italian international outhalf] acts as a consultant to the club and he put me through some kicking and skills drills. He then told me follow the kickers [scrumhalf] Julien Dupuy and [outhalf] Jules Plisson and do what they were doing in preparation for the match.”
Lydon was invited back shortly afterwards for strength and conditioning tests and subsequently offered a three-year academy contract, which is reviewed on an annual basis.
He continued: “Pre-season was very intense. It was 9am to 6pm every day which meant getting up at seven and not getting home until eight at night. In many respects though that was a plus, because it didn’t allow much time to dwell on homesickness.
“My days were filled between training and organising things like WiFi for the apartment and a travel pass. Clement [Daugin] was there for the first few weeks. I got him to speak French to me and I spoke English to him in return. I used to holiday with my family in France so I can understand what’s been said to me but my grammar would be a little suspect.”
Stade Francais boast a playing roster that includes up and coming young French outhalf Jules Plisson and the Springboks’ Morne Styen. The latter’s belated arrival at the club meant that Lydon got 20 minutes in a pre-season friendly against Bayonne. He’s benefitted from the fact director of rugby Gonzalo Quesada (Argentina) and coach Jean Frederic (Jeff) Dubois played outhalf during their careers and have been generous in both time and advice.
Prior to taking the pitch against Bayonne, they encouraged him to do the basics well and not try too hard. “I did a couple of good things and didn’t make any mistakes.”
His second exposure to the first team came in a more volatile environment. “I got 12 minutes off the bench in a Top 14 game away to Castres. At that stage we’d already lost the match. It was a very hostile atmosphere but again I was encouraged just to do the simple things well. I had a review with the academy manager prior to the start of the season and there’s been regular contact since then.”
Stade Francais are in an Amlin Challenge Cup pool that includes London Irish but also Portuguese side Lusitanos and Italian side I Cavalieri Prato . Lydon had been promised some game time and that’s being honoured.
“I have set my goals for the season but in general terms I want to improve as a player and this is a wonderful opportunity for me to experience a different culture in a beautiful city.
“It’s great to be training with the first team. The lads have been very supportive, made me feel very welcome and have gone out of their way to include me socially.
“I’ve set my sights on one start in the Top 14 this season, three or four games off the bench in that tournament and maybe one or two matches in the Amlin Challenge Cup. I prefer to set my goals high.” Starting tonight.