Fitting farewell for Gopperth as he faces his former team-mates

Wasps-bound Kiwi takes his leave after helping the Baa Baas take on Ireland

Jimmy Gopperth at the Barbarians captain’s run in Thomond Park. “I have absolutely loved my time at Leinster and in Ireland.” Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Jimmy Gopperth at the Barbarians captain’s run in Thomond Park. “I have absolutely loved my time at Leinster and in Ireland.” Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 
Leinster

Revealing the sense of guilt which he and the players shared over Matt O’Connor’s departure, Gopperth reflected on his time at Leinster with mixed feelings.

“Two years goes fast in a way but you make good friends and you go through tough times and good times with them, playing alongside them. It’s always going to be tough to leave. What better way to finish than playing against them?”

The nature of the ending didn’t help.

“It was a tough week. I think the whole team were pretty gutted. Matt is such a likable character. Everybody enjoyed working with him. It was a big shock to be fair. Didn’t really see it coming. Every player is wishing him all the very best for his future because he is a very, very good coach.”

O’Connor had been linked with the Queensland Reds, but, in any case, Gopperth has little doubt t he will find another coaching job sooner rather than later.

“I would say teams would jump in there trying to get him. He is one of those coaches that you don’t find too many of. Unfortunately for some reason he didn’t get to see his way out here. He won’t find it hard to get another job for sure.”

A mainstay

Second Captains

Pointing out that on the only occasion Leinster named an unchanged 23, from the Bath to Toulon games, Gopperth noted that even then Ben Marshall had to replace the injured Tom Denton.

“Other than that, that was the only two games all year we had the same line-up. I think I had 14 different partnerships in centre throughout the year.

“It’s hard to get combinations with that and yet we were still a couple of centimetres off getting to a European final. For whoever gets that job it’s a tough task but that is why you have challenges in sport and Leinster have done well throughout the years because they are bound together. This year we really missed when Shane Jennings was injured throughout that time. Last year we had Leo Cullen, guys like that, that brought us through that tough period. They will be better off for it.”

Even so, the players felt culpable.

“For sure,” admitted the likeable Kiwi.

“At the end of the day the coaches aren’t out there kicking the ball, passing or tackling. It’s all players. We do feel like we let him down but we let ourselves down as well as players. There were three or four games we should have won and then probably we would have easily been in the top four of the PRO12. But that’s rugby. It’s hindsight.”

Lest he or we forget, there were good times too, and Gopperth immediately referred to last season’s Pro12 success.

“The year itself was memorable. My first game at Scarlets away, having a cracking win there. You have little games along the way, like Castres away last year and then this year that semi-final. To play 100 minutes and be so close to the champions . .and they go on to win it . .is still gutting. It still hurts,” he said.

Be better

Did we see the best of Jimmy Gopperth?

“As a player you are always trying to be better and you always think you can give a bit more and be better. Of course there are games; I wished I hit the drop goal in Treviso away and in Toulon, we’d be in the final, those little things.

“But look, every time I put on the blue jersey I tried to give my best . . . I tried to play for Leinster as if it was my home team, as if I had been there for years. If people could see that it makes me happy.”

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