Saints new boy Braley ready to rediscover his lost identity

Callum Braley openly admits that he’s lost his identity during the past couple of years.

Callum Braley (picture: Tom Kwah/Northampton Saints)
Callum Braley (picture: Tom Kwah/Northampton Saints)

And the scrum-half believes his switch to Saints will help him to rediscover who he is as a rugby player.

Braley moved to the black, green and gold from Benetton this summer, ending a two-year stay in Italy.

He came through the pathway at Bristol Bears and was previously at Gloucester, where he made more than 100 appearances.

But Braley feels his spark got lost along the way during the latter stages of his time at Kingsholm and during his stint with Benetton.

He said: “I kind of lost my identity if I'm honest in the past couple of years, towards the end of my time at Gloucester and moving over to Italy.

"The fundamentals of my game are a good passing and kicking game really.

"When I was a bit younger, speed of ball was a massive part of my game and so was being a threat around the fringes. I think I've lost that in the past couple of years.

"It's something I'm working hard on now with a clear direction to bring that to life again.

"I hope I can bring high tempo to the team to allow the backs and the forwards to get on the front foot and hopefully I can be a threat around the fringes as well.”

So why does Braley feel like he hasn’t been himself in recent times?

"It's probably been a combination of the teams I've played for and my confidence,” the 28-year-old said.

"Some of the teams I've played for, the game plan hasn't really been about the nine being a threat. It's been very much ball off the base and that's kind of it.

"From there, I probably stopped looking for opportunities and stopped being a threat and my confidence fell off the back of that.

"The way Sam (Vesty) coaches means there are threats all around the park and if the nines aren't going to be a threat, we lose an opportunity to attack.

"It's been great to be coached again and be given clear direction.

"I'm really excited for the future and I want to enjoy my rugby and being back in England."

After deciding to move back to England, Braley chose to hang up his international boots.

He has won 15 caps for Italy, qualifying for the Azzurri through his grandfather.

But he decided that the time was now right to solely focus on the Saints.

"It (the decision to retire from Italy duty) wasn't part of the move," Braley said, when asked whether Saints had wanted him to commit fully to them.

"I'd kind of been thinking about it a little bit and after the Six Nations I had an overwhelming sense that moving back to England and having more continuity was important for me.

"It was really during the Six Nations when it was quite clear that I felt it was the right thing to do and Saints obviously supported me with that.

"If Mitch (Alex Mitchell) is with England then it will help the squad in that dynamic."

Braley will compete with the likes of Mitchell and Tom James for starts this season.

And he believes he can add something different to the talented scrum-half group at Saints.

"All the nines at the club are really good," he said.

"Mitch obviously had a hell of a year last year and he's one of the best players in the Prem.

"When I signed it was a case of coming in and adding to the squad in a position that is already really strong.

"I've maybe got slightly different qualities to what they've got in terms of my experience and leadership potentially.

"Hopefully I can add to the team and the success of the team any which way that comes."

Braley tried to take in as many Saints games as he could while in Italy last season.

"I tried to watch as much as possible," he said.

"It was quite tough with being abroad but even non-Saints fans would agree that they play one of the best brands of rugby in the league.

"They look like they've got real cohesion and everyone looks to be on the same page.

"They play a really exciting brand of rugby that I was really excited to get involved with.

"You can tell they're coached well by Sam (Vesty) and Phil Dowson and they are a really great team with some amazing players.

"It's really exciting to come over and get involved."

Braley started training with Saints when they returned for pre-season last month.

And he said: "The lads have been awesome, very welcoming, and it's been a really good group to get involved in.

"Everyone's working hard and it's good fun.

"I played age-group rugby with Tom Collins, Paul Hill and Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi but that was 10 years or so ago so it's been a while.

"I didn't really know anyone apart from that and it was pretty daunting but they've welcomed me in and I'm very grateful.

"I'm very happy to be back in England.

"It's such a great club, Saints, and I'm just excited to hopefully add to the team and push for some silverware.

"It was a big decision to move abroad initially and I kind of felt like I was settling and I had become a bit stale in my development.

"It was a good time to move to Italy, they were really keen to have me over there and I definitely felt it was the right thing to do at the time.

"But we've realised we really want to be back in England as a family so when the opportunity came to come back to England, it was a no-brainer."

Braley's time in Italy wasn't always smooth-sailing as he had to deal with the Covid situation while he was there.

And he also had to adjust to a different league and language.

"It definitely made me see things differently in a rugby sense, but also personally as well," Braley said.

"You've got to learn a different culture, get to know different people and understand them so I definitely learned a lot more about myself off the field.

"And in rugby, the league was so different with so many different aspects like the travel and the different standards in the league.

"You have the top Irish teams in the league and the gulf in standards is so big compared to the Prem, which is very competitive and everyone can beat everyone."

As for the language barrier, he added: "I knew a tiny bit of Italian before I went over there but the first year was quite tough from a language point of view because of Covid.

"I couldn't really socialise out of the club or in the club so it made it quite hard to learn.

"But after my last year, I improved a little bit and picked it up a bit more.

"I'm far from fluent but I have learned a lot in the past year."