Earth mover: Peter Borlase to rip it up
David Kelly talks to Munster's special project signing Peter Borlase about his aims to rip
Published 10/12/2010 | 05:00
Not even an earthquake could prepare Peter Borlase for Thomond Park.
After a tremor measuring a ground-shattering 7.1 on the Richter Scale ripped through the 25-year-old's house in Christchurch last September, Borlase could have been forgiven for thinking that such convulsions would become a thing of the past.
That was before he stepped on to the sacred Limerick turf, a New Zealander defying Australia in the red of Munster, an unforgettable debut highlighted by an outrageous kick-chase and an even more sensational scrap with a gold-shirted opponent.
Once more, the earth was moving beneath his feet. "It was an unforgettable day for me," he says, smiling fondly.
The memorable 15-6 defeat of the tourists amid a biblical storm marked Borlase's first introduction to the Munster faithful, but his was no ordinary debut.
Signed as a special project during the summer -- the predominantly tight-head prop arrived on a two-year deal with an option to remain and become fully qualified to play for Ireland -- Borlase's commitments with ITM Cup winners Canterbury meant that he only pitched up in Cork four days before the titanic tussle.
He just had enough time to introduce himself to his new team-mates and it showed in the early stages, as he now freely admits, and his engagement was particularly sloppy as he struggled to adopt a consistent pattern before locking in.
"I started slowly," he says at Garryowen's new all-weather facility in Limerick. "Especially with the set-piece stuff, it was slow at first, then I found I worked my way back into the game.
"But I was happy. The result from the team perspective made me feel happy with my first outing in a Munster jersey. I finished strongly."
One churlish critic gleefully lampooned his efforts and there have been suggestions that the "special project" is doomed even before it starts; yet Munster coach Tony McGahan has been impressed with his newcomer's effort.
And Borlase has certainly subsumed himself into the Munster congregation; meeting another former thorn in Aussie sides, Peter Clohessy, at a lunch hours before his unveiling, which turbo-charged his confidence.
Hailing from one of the rugby world's veritable hotbeds -- Christchurch, on New Zealand's South Island -- Borlase would have played the game in his bare feet had the weather allowed.
"Bare feet is old school but more up north," he laughs. "I used to get hand-me-downs. Dad played for a local club and it's just your life around Christchurch. I started at five (years old) and was just hooked."
A decent swimmer, like new team-mate Paul O'Connell, Borlase reached national age-grade championship finals as a nine-year-old and was a promising rower in high school.
"The swimming dream died a long time ago, but that and the rowing have given me a decent grounding in terms of discipline and work ethic. I'm not afraid of hard work."
He became a respected prop for Canterbury for some years, solidifying a pack that contributed to three successive ITM Cup triumphs. However, he failed to establish himself at provincial level, where big hitters such as Greg Somerville and the Franks brothers perennially blocked his path.
"I'd been in Christchurch for the first 25 years of my life and I just felt that at this point of my life, and with how things were at the club, I needed a change," says Borlase, who won only a modest two caps with Crusaders.
"And coming over here, I just thought that the positives outweighed the negatives. It's a great opportunity and I'm very happy to be part of such a wonderful organisation. It's like home in many ways.
"I'd remembered watching the Munster-All Blacks game a couple of years back and that was some match. It went right down to the wire and it was really humbling to know that I was going to be part of something similar. And meeting the supporters after we beat Australia just confirmed all that really."
While the Irish national team's perpetual quest to replace John Hayes may have been relieved somewhat, the twin claims of Tony Buckley and Mike Ross haven't convinced every witness.
Irish forwards coach Gert Smal was present for Munster training this week and, although Borlase may not be registered for the Heineken Cup until the latter stages of the competition (presuming they once more reach that stage), his progress promises to be fascinating.
Not that Borlase is worried about his long-term career path just yet. His first task will be to establish himself with a Munster squad that is one of the most competitive in Europe.
"It's something I'll worry about when it happens," he says. "My present focus is to do well in the Munster squad. There's so much depth. You see that when the internationals were out, the range of talent is extraordinary. So my focus is on getting on as well as I can. Anything else is way down the track."
He's getting texts from his Canterbury team-mates, boasting of training by the beach, but he remains unmoved. "Sure it's cold, but the sun is out and you couldn't be with a better bunch of guys. And it will be summer soon."
Clearly, nobody told him about Irish summers. At least there should be little prospect of an earthquake. Just good vibrations.