Jimmy Gopperth ready to dip his toe into new waters with Leinster
Outhalf not happy to be simply a back up after Newcastle Falcons and is prepared to challenge Ian Madigan
Jimmy Gopperth in action for Newcastle Falcons. The outhalf also played for the Hurricanes and Blues. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
The surfing section of this Jimmy Gopperth interview comes later. Considering the New Plymouth native is a professional rugby player, signed by Leinster to replace Jonathan Sexton (or is that to provide cover for Ian Madigan?) we felt it prudent to lead off with that area of expertise.
The Newcastle Falcons seems a peculiar club for a one-time All Black triallist to spend the last four years of his twenties playing the game he was born to run.
“I was just kind of sitting behind Dan Carter for ages,” said Gopperth, stalling in the dead ball area of Cill Dara RFC last Friday morning after signing his name roughly a thousand times.
“I had a young family and I saw the opportunity. I had a few mates in Newcastle at the time and coming overseas, there was a good atmosphere and it was so much more low key outside of rugby so you could enjoy it, enjoy life.
“I had a great four years there. The rugby was not that flash at times, but I adapted really well and had some great experiences.”
“I got an All Black trial in 2005 and was always sniffing around. I played Junior All Blacks in 2006 and I was there or there abouts. When you have Dan Carter and Nick Evans floating around, for myself and Stephen Donald it was such a conveyor belt.
“I was playing good footy and enjoying myself but it is so hard to crack that black jersey, which is something all young New Zealanders wants to do. I was unfortunate, but I still played at a high level and have no regrets.”
Glint in his eye
Then Newcastle. Now here. There’s a glint in his eye as he delivers the next comment.
“I’m ready for the opportunity to come back into that environment again; to play for a team that is going to be contending for the Heineken Cup is even better. There is a huge buzz around the city, you can see it here today, and that tunes you in a little more. You can test yourself against the best players and the best players in the squad.”
Up at the other 22, Ian Madigan is still scribbling away alongside Luke Fitzgerald and a barely visible Brian O’Driscoll, the barrel of kids threatening to collapse in upon him.
Until, that is, his smiling face, reappears from underneath the wave of admirers.
We choose our next words carefully. Gopperth probably knows by now that he will be fielding the Madigan question from now until our next heat wave, circa 2016, when his contract runs dry.
“It is healthy for both of us. You want to go into a team where you have two, three, four guys pushing for one position because it brings the best out of everybody.
“If you just get it too easy and you know you’re number one you can let your form slip. This way we can be on each other’s heels and pushing each other. There are a couple of young guys who will be pushing us as well [by complete coincidence Cathal Marsh’s developing frame strolls past].
“Nobody wants to be a back-up, I’m just going to try and fit in as best I can with the systems and the environment and use my authority in the game and my experience and we’ll see how it goes. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
They are similar enough players; squat and waspish with dazzling hand-eye co-ordination.
“With myself and Mads, I don’t think – to be fair to (Sexton) – we’re losing too much. We’re gaining enthusiasm with both of us. We will be biting at each other’s heels and that enthusiasm we might just blossom amongst the group.”
That’s enough rugby talk for August. Go to YouTube and the usual action clips of Gopperth can be found but it’s the eight minute, freeze-frame surfing montage, replete with slick tunes that’s really worth a look.
A friend has a place up in the Donegal seaside village of Rossnowlagh.
“Ah, I’ve just been trying to get my bearings,” said the man who seems happiest in a wet suit. “When my missus came over we went to the west coast and had a good weekend. It is just like New Zealand, literally, with all the winding roads and the water was nice and warm.
“Growing up in New Zealand the beach was on my back doorstep so I grew up in the sea. Having a good coastline here, even the east coast, we went diving, I found a few lobsters . . .”
The board and the flippers will be shelved as rugby takes over in the coming weeks and at 30 it’s a career opportunity he almost believed had passed him by.
“Once everything worked out that Jonny was leaving, Joe gave me a call to see my availability. I jumped straight away, as soon as Joe asked me, I just said yes.
“It is the biggest opportunity I could get, to come to a club such as Leinster . . . I couldn’t turn it down.”