While so many Australian players go to Europe to finish their careers, Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty credits a European stint at the beginning of his for a breakthrough Super Rugby season.
After stints with the Sevens and Australian U20s, Haylett-Petty struggled to get comfortable in Super Rugby, shifting between club rugby, reserves and starting spots for the Force, without creating any kind of niche for himself.
“I thought it was quite tough trying to make that step up,” he says.
“One week you’re playing club rugby and the next week you’re thrown into a Super Rugby game on the bench or starting.”
Haylett-Petty was in a queue behind a handful of Test players and the lure of guaranteed game time proved the clincher for his early move overseas.
“When I was (first) playing at the Force there were a lot of Wallabies such as Drew Mitchell and Cam Sheppard and all those sorts of guys ahead of me.
“Those were the reasons I thought heading over to France and playing 30 games a year and just trying to improve as much as I could while I was young.”
In 2010, then 21-year-old Haylett-Petty joined Top 14 French side Biarittz, playing 52 matches over three years as he continued to develop as a player and soak up the lifestyle of a different country.
Staying that long wasn’t initially in his sights, but one year became three and only the lingering desire to work towards Test duties stopped him from being a lifelong Francophile.
“I went over there to play as much rugby as I could and learn a different culture and travel, I absolutely loved it,” he says.
“I went over there saying ‘I’ll go over there for a year’ and ended up staying for three and probably could have stayed longer because the lifestyle was so good.”
While he found comfort and enjoyment in the French Riviera, Haylett-Petty returned home to pursue his dream of donning Wallabies gold.
“The plan was always to try and come back and try and have a crack at playing Wallabies,” he says.
That dream is now in sight with the standout fullback catapulting into Test calculations, brought into Wallabies meetings this season and invited to a recent camp, though no Force representative was able to attend because of their Super Rugby schedule.
“We (Cheika) met at the first set of meetings after round three,” he said.
“We had a quick chat before I flew back to Perth, but unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to catchup with him since.”
Perth has been home for Haylett-Petty since he was 10, moving over with his family from South Africa and the Force always his preferred rugby destination but he says any Australian opportunity would have been enough for him and was close to a Waratahs deal before opting to stay near his family in WA.
“I have all my friends and family here and I think that really helps when I’m trying play footy, having that support network around,” he says.
“I was chatting with the Waratahs for a little while, I would’ve come back and gone anywhere but my preference was always to come home.”
Three years on, his family has become intertwined with his rugby life.
He plays alongside younger brother Ross at the Force and has embarked on a health food business with his sister, Sarah.
That he has those business interests outside of rugby, along with commerce and finance studies, helps him keep things in perspective, he says.
“I studied Commerce and Finance but I started a business with my sister, a healthy drive-thru,” he says.
“That takes up a fair bit of my time on my days off and evenings. Just sitting down with her and working out the direction we want to go.”
“It’s only been opened for six months so we’re just learning as we go, (we’re) both new to the hospitality side of things, so just making mistakes and learning.”
Whether he makes it to the next level this season or further down the road, it seems like Haylett-Petty’s future will keep him in Australia and eventually donning gold as well as blue.