‘There’s nobody better than Maro Itoje to learn from’: Hugh Tizard caused a stir crossing London rugby’s north-south divide to join Saracens from Quins… but the lock has no regrets ahead of their Premiership showdown at Premier League Tottenham
- Tizard has had to grow up fast following his move from Harlequins to Saracens
- Itoje was a big factor behind his move across London rugby’s north-south divide
- He will start in the second row for Saracens against his former club on Saturday
When Hugh Tizard announced last year that he was crossing London rugby’s north-south divide to join Saracens, it caused shock at Harlequins. Months later he was experiencing a shock of his own.
It wasn’t so much the rugby change which the 22-year-old lock had to come to terms with, it was more to do with every-day life upheaval.
Having been living at home with his parents in Guildford as he burst to prominence at Quins, all of a sudden he was out of his comfort zone – by choice – and confronted by the spectre of an empty fridge and paying bills amid a cost-of-living crisis.
‘I might have ended up in Guildford my whole life,’ said Tizard, who grew up in the Surrey town, where the Quins’ training base is located.
‘St Albans isn’t drastically different, but it’s a bit further away and it’s given me a chance to meet new people.
Hugh Tizard has had to grow up fast following his move from Harlequins to Saracens
Maro Itoje was a big factor behind Tizard’s move across London rugby’s north-south divide
‘My rise to playing in the first team at Quins happened pretty quickly and I was still at home with my parents. The first few weeks after I moved up here, it was definitely about growing up and learning how to be an adult! My mum and dad had looked after me really well so it was a hard thing to leave that house, but I think I’ve already got a lot better at the things you need to be good at.
‘The bills have caught me out and I’ve had to be a lot more organised. I was probably a bit naïve and hadn’t realised how expensive everything is! My parents were great in supporting me but now I’ve had to learn about looking after money because it doesn’t go as far as you think.
‘In the first few weeks, I was constantly calling my mum to ask, “How does this work? How do I do this? Why isn’t this working?” But as time has gone on, I’ve stopped relying on her as much.’
For such a large man with a substantial appetite, uncertainty about where the next meal was coming from served to focus Tizard’s mind too.
‘If I opened the fridge at home, there was always something in there, whereas now I’ve really got to plan my food each week,’ he said.
So has it just been Uber Eats all the way?
‘No, I try to avoid just ordering take-aways! I’ve got a new house-mate, Olly Hartley, who has joined from Wasps. We’ve got a good system going with doing a big food shop and making sure we always have plenty of good food in for the week.
‘Olly is a good chef and we both have our own speciality dishes. I like to do spaghetti Bolognese or a chicken and new potato tray bake.’
Tizard will start in the second row for Saracens today against his former club, at Tottenham Stadium, in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 for the latest instalment of a fierce capital-city rivalry.
‘This game has more of an edge for me,’ he said – and he’s not the only one who feels that way. There is a tradition of tension between the sides, so when Tizard decided to make his move, it caused a stir.
‘The coaches were very good,’ he said, when asked how the news was received at Quins, where he had been since age 16.
The 22-year-old lock will start in the second row for Saracens against his former club
‘It never affected my selection. I think I started every game after I announced I was leaving. Player-wise, it was a shock to a lot of people. Generally they were understanding and wished me well, after I explained my reasons and my motives.
‘I had a lot of close mates there, but it was about doing what I needed to do, to achieve the end goal that I wanted. I’m at the place to do that now. The coaching staff here had a real clear plan for me. When I spoke to my agent and people around me, I realised that working with Maro (Itoje) was a big factor. There’s no better player to work with and learn from.
‘At the start, I had to catch up on set piece a lot and I’d sit down and watch stuff with him. He’d give me small tips which would go a long way. Then it was all about effort in training. He is relentless in training, so I’ve been watching that and trying to emulate him.’
Fate decreed that Tizard would make his debut for his new club against his old one – and he was grateful for the support of the Lion alongside him.
‘In that first game against Quins, he basically had his arm around me the whole way through the game, telling me it was going to be alright,’ he said. ‘Hopefully, as time goes on I won’t need him as much but he’s a great guy to be playing next to.’
Tizard’s rugby journey began when he reluctantly took up Sevens at Old Guildfordians, encouraged by his father, Jeremy; a passionate oval-ball enthusiast. He played fly-half initially but when he started to gain bulk, he shifted from 10 to centre, then to the back row before ending up in the second row. Father and son would go to watch Wasps when they played in High Wycombe, and Hugh would be inspired watching England lock Joe Launchbury at close quarters.
‘It was maybe when I got to 15 that I realised that I’d end up in the forwards,’ he said. ‘That’s when the dream died! It was a classic progression; back row then second row as I got taller and put on a few kilos!’
These days, he weighs around 19 stone and his physical clout is a significant asset, especially when aligned with the handling skills he developed as a junior playmaker. Tizard went through a phase of having to do extra training to get in shape, while still in his teens, but now he is truly fit for purpose.
‘At Cranleigh School, I’d do rugby in the first term, Sevens in the second term, then in the summer the head of rugby would have me running around in circles, trying to get fitter,’ said Tizard.
‘I was really heavy. I was probably 120 kilos at school. I had some puppy fat and not much muscle, so the first few years, it was a case of balancing that out. I’m now 122kg and hopefully I’ve found that balance so I’m fit enough but also strong enough.’
His imposing presence and his development under the guidance of Itoje may propel Tizard towards a Test debut for England in the near future.
He was one of the break-through rookies of last season and was included in Red Rose training squads by Eddie Jones last autumn.
His hope is that being part of marquee knock-out fixtures in the Champions Cup will showcase his credentials to Steve Borthwick, the new national coach. There is still time to force his way into World Cup contention.
The Saracens forward talks to Sportsmail’s Chris Foy ahead of Saturday’s London derby
But for now, the focus is on the Premiership and London bragging rights today.
‘It’s an important game for us,’ said Tizard.
‘If we get four or five points, we are guaranteed a home semi. And it’s an amazing stadium, so to play somewhere that cool in front of a big crowd is fantastic.’
The way he’s going, Tizard will play in plenty of ‘cool’ arenas, in front of plenty of big crowds, in the months and years ahead.
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