‘I just want to make my par­ents proud

John Hardie has put the shame of his drug ban be­hind him at New­cas­tle, writes Luke Ed­wards

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

John Hardie’s mo­ti­va­tion to re­build his ca­reer and rep­u­ta­tion at New­cas­tle af­ter a drug ban is one many will un­der­stand – the de­sire to make his par­ents proud again, to give some­thing back to those who have al­ways stood by him.

Born and raised in New Zealand, Hardie con­verted to Scot­land’s cause through a Scot­tish grand­mother and on the back of a suc­cess­ful spell at Ed­in­burgh as an open­side flanker with the for­ag­ing skills to make him­self a nui­sance at any break­down. He was a reg­u­lar in the Scot­land side, ex­celling at the World Cup in 2015.

Things were good, the de­ci­sion to leave the fam­ily farm, 60 miles south of Queen­stown, to move to Europe was a suc­cess. He could not have been hap­pier.

Then came the mo­ment that threatened ev­ery­thing. A night out, an al­le­ga­tion that he had been seen tak­ing co­caine in an Ed­in­burgh bar. There was a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing and a three-month ban fol­lowed, even though he had not failed a drug test.

Hardie felt like an out­cast. Through it all, the thing that hurt him most was the shame and re­gret he had caused those back home who loved him most. It still bites, more than a year later.

“It did cross my mind that I’d be seen as dam­aged goods,” says Hardie, his fea­tures car­ry­ing most of the trade­mark bat­tle scars of a top-level flanker. “You al­ways have those sorts of things in the back of your mind, but you have to re­mem­ber that you have done a lot of things in your ca­reer that had a pos­i­tive im­pact. “It was a re­ally dif­fi­cult time for those close to me. Per­son­ally, it made me a bet­ter per­son. It made me not take things for granted. I think I’ve come out of it with a dif­fer­ent out­look on life. I think that’s what it taught me.

“It’s al­ways go­ing to be there in the back­ground. It’s go­ing to be there when peo­ple do a search of my name on the in­ter­net. I know for my par­ents it’s hard, be­cause when­ever they read some­thing in the pa­per it’s, John Hardie … some­thing, some­thing. It’s around those lines.

“They don’t like that, but like me, they’ve just got to ac­cept it. I’ve got to go back out on the rugby field and make them proud and re­in­force the fact that I’ve moved on. I want to make my mum and dad proud again. They have al­ways loved watch­ing me play rugby and I want to give them that plea­sure again.”

Hardie re­turned to the Ed­in­burgh side at the end of his ban last year, but he was tar­nished by the scan­dal. He missed the Six Na­tions, lost his place in the Scot­land squad and left the Scot­tish cap­i­tal in the sum­mer when his con­tract was not re­newed.

The 30-year-old had no idea what the fu­ture held. A sum­mer move to Cler­mont was ru­ined by a back in­jury and the French club de­clined to sign him – an­other month out of the game, with the suf­fo­cat­ing fear he would not find an­other club.

It put things into per­spec­tive. If he got an­other chance, if some­one was will­ing to take a risk, he would seize it. That was when New­cas­tle stepped in. An in­jury to cap­tain Will Welch opened a slot for a flanker and Hardie was back do­ing what he loved. This week, the Fal­cons an­nounced they have agreed to ex­tend the con­tract he signed to the end of the sea­son for an­other two years.

“New­cas­tle have given me a re­ally good op­por­tu­nity and they have backed me,” Hardie says, in an ac­cent that im­me­di­ately be­trays where he comes from.

“I spent the sum­mer in Cler­mont. I lost a bit of time, but they helped me a lot with my re­hab and got me up and run­ning again, which meant when the op­por­tu­nity arose, I was ready to go.

“It was about a month that I didn’t have a club, I didn’t know where I was go­ing to go. It was an un­cer­tain pe­riod, but it makes you grate­ful for what you have got. It teaches you not to take any­thing for granted.

“Once you get that op­por­tu­nity, you’ve got to take it.

“I think it was good for me to come to a new club. It took me out of my com­fort zone. When you get too com­fort­able, you can get a lit­tle bit stale. It did cross my mind to go back to New Zealand, but I wanted to keep ex­plor­ing, I wanted to keep play­ing over­seas, that was al­ways my dream. I wanted to ex­haust ev­ery op­tion and I was lucky enough to get picked up by New­cas­tle.

“It felt like a very long month, it was the first time I’d not been able to play rugby since I was a kid. I was watch­ing a bit on tele­vi­sion, but I had to stop. I had to switch ev­ery­thing off be­cause it was wind­ing me up. I was jeal­ous watch­ing ev­ery­one play. It was

Faith re­paid: John Hardie has had his con­tract ex­tended at New­cas­tle af­ter some im­pres­sive per­for­mances (left)

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