Tuesday 28 January 2020

Battle with Ian Madigan good for province – Jimmy Gopperth

Kiwi expects to be pushed all the way in fight for Blues No 10 shirt

Jimmy Gopperth is expected to dovetail with Ian Madigan against Castres tomorrow
Jimmy Gopperth is expected to dovetail with Ian Madigan against Castres tomorrow
David Kelly

David Kelly

It was the first mistake in his first two months with Leinster.

Reliving the try-saving tackle against Ospreys in Wales last weekend, Jimmy Gopperth emitted an enthusiastic profanity which led to muted giggles amongst the Leinster staff.

"Well, we were in the s***," he said. You can guess the rest. Suffice to say, though, that had Gopperth failed to smack Jeff Hassler into touch, his side may well have been in the s***.

Later, chief executive Mick Dawson is asked in another context about the needlessly elongated Jonny Sexton contract talks that ultimately forced Leinster to scrap around for Gopperth's signature at the last minute.

"A lot of people hadn't heard of Jimmy Gopperth before, but in fact he's turned out to be quality," he says.

It has indeed been money wisely and well spent.

Dangerous

Assumptions, always a dangerous currency amongst sports fans, had Ian Madigan slated to automatically assume Sexton's berth in the out-half role. Not so.

Gopperth has piloted the team superbly and it looks like he will do so again, having been trotted out to accompany Leinster's sponsorship renewal with CityJet yesterday. No drama.

"It's a broken record," says coach Matt O'Connor. "Jimmy is a great player. I've been lucky enough to coach against him in Super Rugby and (when he was) at Newcastle, and he delivers and facilitates for the team brilliantly.

"Now, Jimmy and Ian are going to be involved every week. That's the reality of it, they'll be involved every game and it will be horses for courses, and if one of them takes the opportunity we'll see how far that goes, and vice versa.

"But they're both incredibly important players to the group, and does it mean that Ian is out of the equation? Certainly not, he's a quality footballer.

"He's still learning his trade and he's delivered for the team this season and historically, so we'll just approach it week to week."

For Gopperth, the step up from second-tier English rugby would seem to be an inordinate one, but that would be dismissing a wealth of experience garnered in the most severe hothouse of them all – New Zealand.

He came here with assumptions knocking around his head, too. Chiefly that he wasn't crossing the Irish Sea merely to ride the pine.

"I suppose every player wants to start and that's the great thing about competition in our squad," says the 30-year-old.

"I knew coming over here how well Ian went (last season) and the way I looked at it was that it was a brilliant challenge for myself. And that's the way we look at it when we're training, even practising kicking and stuff like that, we're trying to better each other.

"If one of us is pushing the other harder, whoever gets the opportunity to start will be better for the team because if there's a little slump of form, the other one will slot straight in.

"So that's the way we try to work and it should be benefiting the team."

Both players are likely to dovetail this weekend, with Madigan expected to emerge for the final quarter, presuming Castres don't cast off their usual attitude and actually compete in an away Heineken Cup clash.

Gopperth feels he belongs at a club he says is admired throughout the world.

INVENTIVE

"Everyone talked about Leinster and how they come up with new moves and are a very skilful side. Every team around the world... you'd see Leinster do a move and then try to emulate it on your pitch the next week.

"We were doing that at Newcastle, guys were doing it all around England. That's the beauty about Leinster, they are not afraid to have a crack and be sort of inventive with what their starter moves are.

"They're not just looking to set plays up, to gain position. It's about scoring tries off of first phase. Everyone's on board with that and everyone's got the skill-set to do it."

Gopperth can attack – and defend. His Hassler tackle is already a YouTube hit. "Well, I thought we were in the s*** to be honest," he smiles. "But as Matt's pointed out in the review, a lot of the credit had to go to Mike McCarthy.

"He was on the inside with a couple of players and his work-rate, to get back and just scrag him to slow him down helped me make a decision on what to do, because if he hadn't done that it was a two on one and it was all over.

"But when you're in that situation you either make the tackle or it's a try. Fortunately, this time it came off."

As instant impressions go, Gopperth has made more than a decent fist of things.

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