The route to silverware is rarely straightforward and Tom Lawday’s journey to becoming a Premiership champion was anything but.
Harlequins back-row forward Lawday spent two years playing in New Zealand as a teenager before sampling university rugby at Exeter, where he was player of the season. He then joined Exeter Chiefs, making 22 appearances, before being loaned by the club to Championship side Cornish Pirates, where he earned a move to Quins in 2019.
“It toughened me up a bit and I think that’s really crucial,” Lawday tells City A.M. “There’s a lot of big boys knocking about there [in the Championship]. It might not be as skilful and might not be as quick tempo – it definitely isn’t – but their way of playing did me wonders.
“I am more robust than I would otherwise be and from there the Premiership was less of a shock.”
Lawday, 27, was named in the 2018 Championship team of the year alongside eight other players who now play in the Premiership, having established himself as a reliable carrier in both the Chiefs’ and Pirates’ ranks.
“He is a strong, ball-carrying, tackle-breaking, all-action back row who I believe will continue to improve individually and help us improve collectively as a team,” said then-Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard on his arrival. “He is an impressive young man who is the archetypal modern-day back row forward.”
Clearly on the radar of Harlequins for some time, Lawday’s spells in leagues below the Premiership allowed him to develop a game perfect for a squad on the charge.
“I’ve always prided myself on working hard. I always want to be the hardest working player in the squad on the pitch,” says Lawday.
“I’m usually pretty tough on myself. I’ve got to improve and get better – that’s the kind of drive that keeps you going, I guess.”
Lawday quickly established himself at The Stoop, making 18 appearances in his first season and then 20 as they swept to an unexpected Premiership title triumph. He credits playing in so many different environments with making him more adaptable.
“I think it was good for me personally. Coming up here to Quins, you can throw the ball around a bit, it marries my two styles up quite nicely,” he says.
“I’m always looking at how I can get better within our system. I sit down with the coaches most weeks and see what I did well and what I need to fix up and work.”
Tom Lawday might not have taken the academy route common to many of today’s top rugby players, but that has not stopped him blazing his own trail to the top.