The New Zealander by birth, English by his parents, was Super Rugby champion with the Hurricanes (2016) before wearing the English jersey eight times. While he could, on Saturday (at 3 p.m. at Aimé-Giral), play his first match with USAP, he hopes to share his experience with a team whose reputation he knows.
How did you choose Perpignan?
USAP a big story in French rugby. In the past, his team has often been competitive, in France and in Europe. I know that “Zaza” (David Marty), Rimas (Alvarez-Kairelis), Perry (Freshwater) wore the Perpignan jersey and were French champions with the club. I don’t remember what year… (2009). So when I was offered to sign for Perpignan, I didn’t hesitate.
What happened to Wasps, did you know the club was in trouble?
Yes. we had been warned that the Wasps were going through a bad period, but no one imagined that the situation would come to this*. We sent that the leaders would fix everything and that the story would continue without thinking for a moment that we would stop all activity. We remained optimistic saying to ourselves: “It will be ok…” And then, one Sunday evening (October 16, Editor’s note), we all received an email summoning players and coaches to a meeting for Monday morning. The day after. We learned about the recovery of the club.
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How did you react ?
We were all very shocked! The rugby player, what he wants above all is to play, to practice his sport. Learning that everything is going to stop overnight for non-sporting reasons is hard to accept. It shouldn’t happen. We just lost our job, it’s not easy to live with. There was a period of stress after the announcement.
And then what happened?
Our agents set to work to find leads. Everyone is busy looking for solutions. Mine told me he had a touch with Perpignan. That the coaches would call me in the afternoon. I had “Zaza” on the phone, Patrick (Arlettaz) and Perry. It was a great challenge for me. I accepted it. During all the discussions, we continued to train, with a few teammates, where we could, on grounds that we had to find ourselves since these Wasps were closed.
We imagine that you noted relieved after signing with USAP?
Yes, because it’s not easy to find a club in the middle of the season. Staff are trained. Apart from the medical jokers, difficult to bounce elsewhere. When you start the season, you can never imagine that you are going to experience such a misadventure. I am very happy to have found a nice place to play rugby. Perpignan was an incredible opportunity. I did not miss the opportunity.
“The most important thing is to lead by example”
What do you know of USAP and Perpignan? Are there any players that you have found since your arrival?
I told you, Perpignan occupies a good place in the world of club rugby. His reputation has gone far beyond borders. And then in training, I found familiar faces. Those of Shahn (Eru) and Mamea Lemalu. When we were kids, we played against each other, in the province of Wellington! George Tilsley too.
You were born New Zealander, and yet you were selected with England, eight times, why?
Because my parents are English. My father, Nigel, is from Yorkshire and my mother, Danielle, from Essex. When I announced my arrival at Wasps, from the Hurricanes, where I had won Super Rugby (20-3 against the Johannesburg Lions, 2016), Eddie Jones jumped at the chance, and as I had the two passports, he included me in the group for the summer tour in South Africa. I was a substitute on the first test and started in the third wing line for the second, at Bloemfontein. And in the 2018 autumn tests, I played against the All Blacks at Twickenham! I played against my Hurricanes teammates, Liam Squire or Ardie Savea!
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How do you feel?
Very honored to have been granted this trust. I was a little apprehensive about arriving at XV de la Rose training, I was afraid of the reaction of my teammates, but in the end everything went very well, I was very well received. Everyone wanted to see me succeed. It made me want to give the best of myself. I was happy and I felt privileged to be able to live such an experience. I hadn’t had the chance to play with the Blacks, because sometimes in life things didn’t go as planned… But I dreamed of playing at the highest international level and England gave me that opportunity.
Could you have claimed to play the 2019 World Cup in Japan?
Maybe, but I got hurt at the worst time. A problem with the arch of the foot which altered my preparation
What is your first impression of your new team, USAP?
It is a courageous team, which has heart. She is competitive, but from what I could see and see on the video, she must finish her matches better. Around the 65th, 70th minute, it drops in intensity. USAP is a playful team, which likes to fly the ball.
Do you know that you are expected to become a leader in front?
For me, the most important thing is to lead by example. I’ve been captain a few times, and the main thing is to do things well on the pitch. If I can be one game driver (the one who leads the maneuver), the one who makes the right decisions at the right time, perfect. I will try to bring my experience and encourage my teammates.
In French, or in English?
I know the basic words: “yes, no, thank you, how are you? Hello!” Fortunately, there are many players who speak English at the club!
Have you heard of the atmosphere at Aimé-Giral?
Will (Witty) told me that the fans here were very…passionate. I’m excited to find out all about it!”
Placed under guardianship, the London club, in receivership, dismissed all its players and coaches, the administrative members of the club on October 17th.