BATH // Two months ago Shontayne Hape was the darling of the English Super League, the top flight of rugby league, running in tries week after week for the Bradford Bulls. But this summer Hape, 26, opted to bring a close to a lucrative and impressive league career, in which he scored 85 tries in 136 Bulls appearances, to become the latest convert to union.
Bath's big-name summer signing will be all too aware that for every Jason Robinson league-to-union success story, there has been a Henry Paul or Karl Pryce who has drifted away. But any thought that the England-qualified centre might fail barely register with Hape. "I've come to Bath knowing I can be a success. It'd be a silly move if I didn't," he said. "That doesn't mean I'll easily slip into it. I'm well aware it could all go horribly wrong but this is the right choice for me.
"I'm learning something new every day. Since arriving here in July every day has been like being on some crazy crash course. "I have a great buzz coming to training every day and I can't wait to get stuck in." That could come as soon as Sunday, if selected for Bath's opening game of the Premiership season away to local rivals Bristol. The New Zealand-born Hape has done his utmost to be ready for the season start, even controversially buying his way out of his Bulls contract to arrive at Bath in time for their pre-season training camp in Portugal.
"I decided that if I was going to do this I had to be as professional about it as possible and that meant getting here as quickly as possible," he said. "I asked the Bulls to release me from my contract but they said no so I had no choice but to buy my way out. "That's fair enough, this is a professional world and I was breaking my contract and hopefully there's no hard feelings. There's certainly none from me - I have nothing but great memories of the place."
Perhaps his finest moments at the Bulls came in partnership with his best friend Lesley Vainikolo, another cross-coder who switched to Gloucester at the start of last season. Vainikolo played a big part in Hape heading to union. "I talked to him a lot about it. In fact my wife and I were going to be living with him and his wife in Cheltenham but it turned out to be too much of a commute to Bath every day," said Hape.
Such a living arrangement might have proved a bit too close for comfort, with Bath hosting Gloucester in the second weekend of Premiership matches. "I'm not looking forward to playing against him," joked Hape. "He's a big, big guy and I'd got used to him running at opposition rather than me." Hape has not played rugby union since he was 13, but he is already being talked about as a future England international. He qualifies on residency grounds but laughed at the suggestion.
"I'm not even in the Bath first team so let's not get ahead of ourselves," he added. "I don't need that sort of distraction at the moment. "But it's been great, well, it will be until I have to play in the winter! That's another first for me." firstname.lastname@example.org