Rodney Ah You wants to do Connacht proud after cracking the Irish set-up
The ferocious prop says their’s a belief among his team-mates that Saracens can be turned over
Connacht’s Rodney Ah You: “I just want to go into camp and show what I have got and to represent Connacht really well.”
The summons comes completely out of the blue. Another Tuesday afternoon training session in the Sportsground ends and Rodney Ah You is asked to drop into the manager’s office. Tim Warnock is inside, beaming at him. Congratulations, he tells the big New Zealander. You’ve made the Irish squad.
Two days later, after another workout on a January afternoon with the first hint of spring, Ah You is still grinning helplessly. “My initial reaction was pure shock,” he says. “You know: it can’t be true. It can’t be true. But yeah, it has slowly been sinking in for the past few hours.”
While the inclusion of Robbie Henshaw, easily the most talked about three-quarters player since the first flush of Jonathan Bell and growing with every game, was a banker for Connacht, the elevation of Ah You to the cusp of international game was a less obvious choice by Joe Schmidt.
Ah You recalls his first season in Galway with mixed feelings: along with his wife Bella, he took quite a while to convince himself that he wanted to leave Christchurch at all. Even though his initial experience of Ireland as part of the baby Blacks squad that won the 2007 World Cup in Belfast was memorable, it was still a small island that seemed unfathomably far away from his family and what he knew. And when he came, he found the way of life overwhelmingly strange and the streets constantly damp. And the rugby life was different.
Eric Elwood recruited him and he enjoyed the straight-talking enthusiasm of the coach who, he quickly learned, was something of a walking god in this part of the world. But the life was a different thing.
“Being in a professional environment full time . . . I was taking it for granted. It took a while. The funny thing is that when we went back to Christchurch last time, we were saying: ‘Let’s go home now’. Both our kids were born in Galway and we have Irish friends outside of rugby and it feels like home to us now.”
Even sitting down in the Connacht offices, wearing training shorts and a sweatshirt, Ah You is a ferociously strong looking customer and unexpectedly soft-spoken. He apologises several times, claiming that he is no good at interviews but he is clearly still scrambling a little to sift through the details of what must be the busiest week of his professional life.
The thought of the Ireland camp is a thrill but his immediate concentration and loyalties are firmly with Connacht and the matter of their closing Heineken Cup pool game against Saracens, which takes place in the extreme northern fringe of London at lunchtime today. The scenario is classically Connacht: up against the odds but ferociously alive and requiring a touch of divine inspiration to match the ferocious honesty which can, occasionally, enable them to eclipse rugby teams with lofty ambitions.
“Well, there is a big belief that we can turn Saracens over. When they came here we fell just short. It comes down to the team . . . we can’t play as individuals on Saturday or else we will fall apart. The Amlin Cup is something to shoot for too but when we go out there we will be playing for the championship.”