The past 12 months has been nothing if not intense for Aussie 7s young gun Henry Hutchison in his meteoric rise on the international sevens stage.
The 19 year old admits his key role in the team’s line-up, since his initial contract talks with former coach Geraint John in late 2015, has required some adjustment in his approach to the game and to life in general.
“I think at the start my goals were just to get a debut on the World Series as an 18 year old and trying to find my feet, but the Sydney7s tournament last year kick started it all and then I found myself in the Rio squad,” he said.
Despite trying several other sports as a youngster – including AFL during a stint living in Melbourne - Hutchison claims rugby as his first love.
“My dad and all his brothers played, so I grew up playing football. All my mates played rugby so it’s just always been what I’ve known and always been my first choice - it’s been rugby from day one,” he said.
He even confesses to foregoing a teddy bear as a child in favour of a rugby ball at bedtime.
Although training briefly with the Brumbies as a schoolboy, Hutchison believes sevens is the best form of the game for him at this early point in his football career.
“Right now, as a player and the position I’m in, I think sevens is perfectly suited for me. There’s so much space for me, so it suits my running game and it also makes me work and develop my long passing skills and my breakdown skills. It’s just helps me develop a wide range of skills and bring my game to a whole new level,” he said.
For a young man just a few weeks short of his twentieth birthday, he displays a maturity that belies those years.
“I think through the season I had to change my way of thinking. I had to start being more professional - start being smarter with what I eat and what I do off-field that will keep me in the best shape for the team,” he said.
“When you’re playing at this level you really can’t take any shortcuts – that’s been one of the greatest learnings I’ve found over the last 12 months - to be professional, not only on the field but definitely off the field.”
With friends who are enjoying the fruits of university life and a carefree social scene, Hutchison has quickly adjusted to the fact he is on a different path – one that he has firmly chosen.
“It’s been tough as a 19 year old to see all your mates at university and having a great time and you have to be really disciplined and make sacrifices - so that’s been a really big learning curve for me,” he said.
Through circumstance and despite his limited time in the squad, Hutchison has been moved quickly into a leadership role – one he finds to be a positive challenge.
He has been assigned to help fellow teens and newcomers to understand the lessons he has learned over the last year under the guidance of veterans such as Ed Jenkins and Lewis Holland.
“It is definitely unusual to be in a position of leadership at 19, definitely a challenge. I still consider myself a rookie on the circuit – I’ve only played 10 caps – but the squad that we have at the moment and that are available for selection have less caps than I have so I find myself teaching these new guys things that I was taught last year,” said Hutchison.
“It is easier once you’ve been in the program and you’ve learnt off players like Lewi Holland, Cam Clarke and Pama Fou – but it’s definitely a challenge.
“It is a learning curve for me but it’s one that I’m really enjoying and it’s one that’s really expanding my game and making it more fulfilling. - Henry Hutchison
Hutchison admits to still looking to his mentors for advice and guidance despite their current absence from the field.
He sees himself as ‘holding the fort’ for these veterans who are battling ongoing injuries at a time when the Aussies are going through a substantial rebuild after a long pre-Olympic campaign.
“I still see Lewi Holland, Ed Jenkins, Jesse Parahi and James Stannard as the leaders of the squad. Unfortunately they’re not touring with us right now, but last year I learnt so much under their leadership that it rubbed off on me enough to get by while they’re not here, until they return from injury and they can regain those roles,” said Hutchison.
A key element to his game is his confidence. He understands that as his profile and performance has risen so has the target on his back – but he is not fazed in the least.
“If I’m able to beat players and still able to be a dominant player while being marked, then that makes me even more confident and I thrive on confidence,” he said.
There is no doubt Henry Hutchison is still developing as a player and his new role within the team does not seem to be slowing him down. With four tries in Wellington, he looks to be replicating the scoreboard impact he had last season which saw him finish with 27 tries for the series and named the World Rugby Rookie of the Year.
His impact off the field would also seem to growing and there is no doubt he will be a vital cog in the future development of the Australian Sevens program for years to come.