An Englishman committed to Hungary's cause
Daniel Toth is a man with a foot in two camps. A regular fixture of club rugby in England, this weekend he will attempt to power Hungary to victory over Bulgaria as the European qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2015 gets underway.
The 23-year-old completed an unlikely rise to international rugby in 2009 thanks to his own initiative, having emailed the Hungarian Union to alert them to his eligibility for the national side. A former Moseley Colt, Toth qualifies for Hungary through his grandfather Lajos, who emigrated to England following the Soviet invasion in 1956.
A tighthead prop, Toth was invited for a trial and impressed sufficiently to be parachuted into a match-day squad only two days after his arrival in Esztergom.
“I’ve always been interested, not just in rugby in Hungary, but Hungary in general,” admitted Toth. “I got to about 15 or 16 and I was playing for Moseley Colts. I ended up having to get a full-time job, and playing amateur rugby for a team called Camp Hill, so I just sent an email across to the Hungarian rugby union, just letting them know that I had Hungarian heritage and that I was really keen on playing.
“I went over to train on the Thursday, trained for two days and on the Saturday I was in the squad against Austria. I was a second-half substitution and I’ve played eight times since then.”
Pitched in at the deep end
There was a steep learning curve to Toth’s introduction to the squad. Alone in an unfamiliar land and unable to speak the language, he threw himself into training and made every effort to slot in to his new team’s culture.
“It was really surreal,” he recalled. “I didn’t know anybody, I couldn’t speak Hungarian at all – I didn’t even know the word ‘hello’.
“I met somebody at the airport, got in his car and drove about an hour to Esztergom, which is where Hungary play a lot of their home games, and met up with the lads and got involved as much as I could, learned as much of the language as I could.
“By the Saturday I was talking the Hungarian I’d learned in those few days on the pitch. About 2,000 fans were there, it was unreal compared to playing on a Saturday for the Moseley Colts in front of 50-60 parents. It was a very different experience.
“I’ve been in constant contact with them, and I’ve made friends with a lot of the lads. I go back and forth probably two or three times a year.”
With Toth’s teammates at Moseley Amateurs now looking forward to a home Rugby World Cup, his participation in the qualifying process has come up in conversation on more than one occasion.
Massive for rugby's future in Hungary
“It’s become a bit of a running joke actually at the rugby club. Whenever we talk about the World Cup they say, ‘when are Hungary going to be in it?’ I always say, ‘hopefully in a few years’ time’.
“I don’t think any time soon I’m going to be walking out at Twickenham for Hungary, however I’d love to. For Hungary it’s just about getting as far as we can and constantly trying to work our way through the leagues and getting up to that standard.”
The start of European qualifying in Hungary will be a major event for the Union, with Rugby World Cup-winner Lawrence Dallaglio set to deliver the Webb Ellis Cup to the match after a week-long road trip through Europe.
Toth believes that such a display will be beneficial to rugby in Hungary, having already noticed a rise in playing numbers among children during his short time with the national team.
“It’ll be massive, massive. More for the kids. There’s a lot of children, and it’s very quickly growing. Since I went there in 2009, the way rugby is marketed, the amount of children attending the training sessions and the way the clubs are set up is growing.