Simon Hrbek helps put the boot in to Shelford prospects
PUBLISHED: 08:00 10 January 2017
Iliffe Media Ltd
Full-back adds vital points to the cause
A consistent goalkicker is like gold dust in rugby.
Teams at all levels are constantly on the prowl for someone capable of turning those hard-earned or easily awarded penalties into points.
If you go right to the top, then you need to just look at the value of Dan Carter to New Zealand or how England’s high points have coincided with the inclusion of the likes of Jonathan Webb, Rob Andrew, Jonny Wilkinson and now, hopefully, Owen Farrell.
So after a couple of years where the responsibilities have been shared at Shelford, the arrival of Simon Hrbek has already led to an improvement in their success percentage from the kicking tee.
Hrbek was little known in this neck of the woods when he appeared for Eastern Counties in the Bill Beaumont Cup RFU County Championship Division One at Grange Road in May. But he made sure people knew his name after the game having scored a try and landed six conversions and a penalty in the 45-33 win over Yorkshire.
And the performances in the championship led the 22-year-old to leave Letchworth, where he had been since he was seven, to make the step up a level into National League Three London & SE with Shelford.
“I heard it had a good culture here, very family-led, so everyone is involved. You haven’t just got a first team and a second team, everyone is really a family and playing in the league above tempted me quite a lot.
“It’s a lot more physical and faster, but people have always said to me I can play this level, so I’m loving the challenge.
“The players are more skilful, they know what they’re doing, it’s faster and it’s harder – bigger hits.”
Hrbek admits that he prides himself on his kicking, spending an extra hour before every training session perfecting his technique.
“It’s something I’ve always tried to work on,” he said. “It gives another skill that puts you away from the rest.
“Any team wants a full-back that can run around, but you’ve got to think that they can kick as well – it’s another string to my bow and makes me more appealing to teams.
“It’s just another challenge that you have to deal with in a game, rather than just running around. You have to be able to control your breathing and heartrate to be able to calm yourself down for kicks.
“Owen Farrell takes his time and is composed, and I try to be like that because there’s nothing worse than working your way up the pitch and then going and missing a kick.”
Hrbek did take a year out to dabble in rugby league with Hemel Stags.
“I just wanted to try something new as I had tried union for so long,” he said. “I just thought why not and I was at university in Bedford and got into England Students.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t make it into the final squad. It’s a lot more physical than union, you’re just running into brick walls all the time.
“It’s good, but there was a lot of travelling as you’re always playing up north.
“It’s a lot of the same sort of skills, but I think union players are a lot more technical than league players, just like handling and passing is a lot more on point in union.
“While I was playing league I was still doing union at uni, so I never forgot about it.
“I enjoy union more, and I’m not going to play league until I’m 35, I’d rather play union until I’m 35 – play something I enjoy rather than something where you just get smashed about!”
Hrbek’s name comes from the Czech Republic, from where his dad hails, and he has already had overtures to represent them internationally.
However, it came from the ‘wrong’ code.
“I have been asked to play for the Czech national team for rugby league, but I’m not [going to],” he said.
“It’s not big out there, it’s an up-and-coming sport, so maybe in a few years I’ll go over.”
But he would consider an invite from union.
“It’s definitely something I would look into,” said Hrbek, “I just wouldn’t know how to get into it at the moment.
“I’ve seen the team, a lot of them play in the Czech Republic, no one really plays in England.”