An unusual route to Leinster's centre

Sat, Dec 15, 2012, 00:00

Andrew Goodman has travelled a long way, in every sense, to reach Leinster, writes JOHN O'SULLIVAN

It started with an early morning phone call where an innocent misunderstanding and intermittent static led to crossed wires in communication terms. Andrew Goodman smiles as he recounts a travelogue that originated in Nelson, a town at the top of New Zealand’s South island, with Dublin as its hopping off point.

On a superficial level the tale has a slight Hollywood accent where a 30-year-old schoolteacher was plucked from ITM Cup rugby in New Zealand and deposited in the maelstrom of the Stade Marcel Michelin, the acclimatising process involving three RaboDirect games, two of which were played in horrendous conditions. Goodman has travelled a long way in a short time; literally and figuratively.

The New Zealander explains: “I was working for the Tasman rugby union in junior rugby development (while also teaching in Nelson College, his alma mater) and I was about to head out to a school one morning. The principal from that school usually gave me a ring to make sure I am coming along.

“When the phone rang I just assumed it was him. The phone line wasn’t great and without waiting to hear the other person speak I just went, ‘yeah, yeah, I will be there soon’. A voice went, ‘no, no it’s Joe Schmidt from Leinster in Ireland’.

“I was taken aback, didn’t know what was going on. He asked me if I would be interested in coming over. I was trying not to sound too excited, as if I’d jump on the plane in a heartbeat. I was on a high for the rest of the day.”

Goodman hasn’t broached the genesis of the one-year contract offer with an option on a second 12 months but concedes he’ll get around to it some day.

“Maybe (it was down to) Feeky (Leinster scrum coach and fellow Kiwi, Greg Feek),” he mused. “He was involved with the Tasman Makos the first year they were around (2006). I only played one game for Tasman that year.

“They contacted me before the ITM Cup so it was quite a long wait. I had something to really look forward to but at the same time could focus on just playing well for Tasman. We had a good season, got to the semis, something that we didn’t do the year before.”

In preparation for the adventure he decided to take a more scholarly interest in his new footie team.

“Leinster have become a team over the last few years that everyone in the world knows because of their success in the Heineken Cup. As soon as I knew I might be coming over I started watching a lot more. There is a rugby channel back home that shows quite a lot of the Rabo games as well as the Heineken Cup matches.”

He’d been to Ireland before, 2008 to be precise, when in the company of a couple of mates he followed the New Zealand tour to Europe, taking in the Test match at Croke Park and also the memorable clash between Munster and the All Blacks at Thomond Park.

“That was an amazing experience in Limerick. The silence for goal-kicking made a huge impression. You could hear a pin drop. Stephen Donald had a hard night coping with it.”

He managed to squeeze in a bit of sight-seeing – Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College – and because his two mates had never been to university, the backpackers mingled with UCD students, even popping in for a lecture or two. He spent a couple of days catching up with a friend, Hadley Dryden, who was playing rugby with Boyne.

Rugby and teaching

Hindsight would suggest rugby and teaching were always likely to feature strongly. His dad John, now retired, was principal at Nelson College while mum Trish still teaches at a primary school. He has two brothers – Nick, older, teaches business English at Seoul, South Korea and Chis, younger, works in sports administration back in Nelson – and a sister, Jane, who lives in Hamilton.

He laughs at the suggestion that being dispatched to the principal’s office carried a greater personal risk. He played on the first XV in rugby – All Black prop Wyatt Crockett was a team-mate – and XI in cricket under his father’s tutelage.

His childhood rugby hero was Michael Jones, while Frank Bunce and Andrew Mehrtens also captured his affection. Rugby was a passion. His education continued at Otago University where he studied physical education and teaching.

During his five years in Dunedin he played for the famous Southern Club before joining new franchise the Tasman Makos (an amalgamation of Marlborough and the Nelson Bays) in 2006. He admitted: “I always wanted to play professional rugby. It didn’t really happen for me until my mid-20s but it is satisfying that hard work pays off.”

In 2009 Goodman received an offer from Suzuka-based Honda Heat in Japan. The word was the ITM Cup was going to be cut back to 10 teams and the Makos might lose out. It nudged Goodman to find his passport and embrace the Japanese sabbatical.

“The week after I signed they said that Tasman was staying in the competition. That was a bit of a hard one to swallow. I have no regrets. It was a good year over in Japan.”

Quite an impression

He returned to Tasman and this season became the fourth player to win 50 caps: in 53 matches he’s scored 288 points.

Leinster have made quite an impression and not just the ‘few dark ales’ in the company of his team-mates on a night out during a recent week off.

“The whole set-up has been outstanding from the coaching to the players, trainers and physios; it’s just amazing. You can see why they have had so much success. The boys have been very helpful in getting me sorted with the plays and making me feel welcome. It makes you want to play hard for that jersey. I was really proud to have that opportunity to go and play a Heineken Cup game for Leinster.

“Coming over here with Darce (Gordon D’Arcy) and Brian (O’Driscoll) in the midfield I knew my chances might be a bit limited but with the injuries I have to try and take the opportunities when they come. I love the way Leinster play.

“Joe (Schmidt) is a great thinker on the game. He has got some awesome plays. There are still things I am learning, things that I need to get right. I’ll keep working hard at those.” The week prior to the game in Stade Marcel Michelin dragged a little because of the Sunday kick-off for someone desperate to experience the tournament.

“I’m still feeling it now. As soon as you get tackled by one guy two others would come in and smash you. The ground was quite heavy so it was hard on the legs. I had to take a few deep breaths from time to time. There are a few mistakes I made that I want to fix up.”

His team-mates had warned him what the atmosphere would be like but it was at a backs meeting during that week that he realised the magnitude of the challenge. As they watched analysis clips of the likely Clermont starting team it dawned on him that two former All Blacks, Benson Stanley and Regan King, couldn’t make the walk-on side.

He loved the atmosphere in France – at 17,000, it was the biggest crowd he’s played in front of – but admits he’s relishing the prospect of showcasing his talent in front of 50,000 supporters. He adapted impressively to the demands in Clermont but he’s adamant there’s plenty of scope to take it further.

His partner, a teacher, arrives on St Stephen’s Day, once her teaching commitments for the year are over and when asked about his long term goals,” he responds. “I’d love to be here as long as I can.”

Days like today at the Aviva Stadium are going to provide a benchmarking process for that ambition.

Andrew Goodman Details

Age: 30

Position: Centre/Outhalf Birthplace: Nelson

Height: 1.88 (6’2”)

Weight: 102kg (16st)

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