Kyle Eastmond: Ex-league star begins assault on the Premiership

By Caroline ChapmanBBC West Sport

The way former rugby league half-back Kyle Eastmond describes his initiation into the Bath dressing room, and the 15-man game, projects the image of the new kid at school, desperately trying to fit in.

"It's because of the accent," he told BBC West Sport, in his heavy Oldham drawl. "You get people like [backs] Dan Hipkiss and Sam Vesty and a couple of the other boys having a go at me because it's so broad.

"There's a few differences here, and a few more private school kids, but it's awesome. I love the banter and the jokes."

Standing at just 5ft 7in, juxtaposed with a precocious swagger, Eastmond is an easy target for Bath's blue-blooded mocking boys.

But his performances so far this term have provided him with plenty of ammunition to counter the changing-room ridicule.

His debut try in the black and blue shirt against Wasps - a beguiling run which saw the winger beat eight defenders - was a dazzling demonstration of his dynamic footwork.

It took the 23-year-old a full season to find his feet in union, after struggling for months with a groin injury, but he is now well on his way to fulfilling the potential that propelled him to prominence at St Helens.

"I've followed his career very closely as a player," said Bath coach Brad Davis, a former league man himself, who engineered the former Saint's code switch.

"When I transferred over to Bath I got a phone call from an agent up north and was asked if I would be interested. I pretty much snapped his hand off."

Eastmond made his senior Saints debut in 2007, but it was his eight tries and 30 goals in 2009 which made onlookers aware of his sparkling talent.

On receiving his first of four England caps in the same year, comparisons with Jason Robinson - the former Wigan, England and Great Britain full-back - were soon being made.

In 2011 Eastmond agreed to follow Robinson's path and switched codes to join Bath - the inevitable comparisons have followed ever since.

"I was coming in to the final year of my contract at St Helens," said Eastmond. "There was interest from a few clubs and I wanted to take my chance.

"It was about the places that Bath want to go to. It's not just about me, you can see from the owners and the fans what they want.

"That's a huge buzz and it's something I wanted to be a part of."

He played out his final league days under a cloud - initially omitted from England's elite squad, he was suspended by Saints, forced to make an apology and endured persistent booing from disconsolate fans after announcing his intentions to leave the sport.

And his fortunes failed to improve on his arrival in the West country.

"I came here with a groin injury and I just couldn't get it right," he continued.

"By the time I'd got to Bath in October-November, it was shot. I needed a proper pre-season.

"It was frustrating to come to a new club, with new team-mates and a new coaches. You want to get in there and work hard to show what you can do."

Fit enough to make only three, somewhat underwhelming, appearances last term, all from the replacements' bench, Eastmond disappeared off the radar and in to the treatment room.

His on-going absence raised concerns that Eastmond was a talent gone to waste, and there were rumblings, from beyond The Rec, that his switch was a failure.

But he was able to analyse his new game from the sidelines, and Bath coach Mike Ford suggested Eastmond had a "sponge-like willingness to learn".

"For us, moving forward, he's going to keep learning the game," added Davis.

"He's hungry for information. You see him on the training field and you know you've got something special there.

"He's playing on the wing at the moment but closer to the action he's going to be causing even more havoc."

Adding to his first thunderous effort at Adams Park, Eastmond claimed his second Bath try in their defeat by London Irish - which showed his reading of a game when he appeared on Nick Abendanon's shoulder for the scoring pass.

If this form continues throughout the Premiership campaign, Davis believes Eastmond could emulate Robinson again and become the latest in a growing band of dual-code rugby internationals.

"I have no doubt in my mind that he can go all the way," Davis concluded.

"You don't want to put any extra pressure on him. He needs to take one game at a time and keep educating.

"I think we've only just scratched the surface with him."

When asked of his own international ambitions, Eastmond responds with characteristic nonchalance:

"I just want to be the best player I can be. Wherever that takes me then, fair play, I'm happy."

Interview conducted by Damian Derrick for BBC Points West

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