Thursday 19 September 2019

'Coming here was too good an opportunity to pass up'

Former Brumbies and Reds flanker has impressed in early weeks of new campaign

Australian Jarrad Butler brings vast experience to the Connacht set-up having played underage with his country and Super Rugby with the Reds and Brumbies. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Australian Jarrad Butler brings vast experience to the Connacht set-up having played underage with his country and Super Rugby with the Reds and Brumbies. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

With five starts and one replacement appearance to his name since joining Connacht, Jarrad Butler was worthy of his rest for the province's trip to Switzerland last weekend.

It has been a hectic schedule so far for the 26-year-old, but he regarded his rest against Oyonnax as a chance to improve his game and nail down his regular spot in the back-row.

Born in small town of Paraparaumu outside Wellington, there was only ever going to be one sport for Butler. And after growing up mesmerised by the feats of Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga, the Hurricanes fan headed for Australia as he approached his teenage years.

"When you are born in New Zealand, rugby is everything, you just play rugby. From there I just fell in love with it. It was the only sport for me all along. I always enjoyed playing it," says Butler.

"I definitely grew up supporting the All Blacks. I supported the Hurricanes too, they had an unbelievable team back then. And then when I moved over, it got to a point where I have a lot of friends who have played in the Wallabies team so my allegiance is with the Australian team now.

"I loved watching Cullen and Umaga and growing up I would have played a few games in the backs, at centre, but quickly found out I had no pace.

"I worked my way in the forward pack and luckily I didn't go too much further in because I would have struggled as a front-row that's for sure."

Butler was awarded a prestigious scholarship to the famed rugby nursery, Southport School on Australia's Gold Coast, when he was 15. He spent three years there and went through the regular system for a potential professional rugby player ending up in the Queensland Reds academy.

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"I just went through the classic pathway in Australia. I played Queensland U-15, Queensland U-16 and they had national academies through that. Following on from there it was the Queensland Schoolboys," says Butler. "I went into Australia Schoolboys and then the Reds academy. I was there was three or four years before I got a contract for a year with the full team."

Butler gained vast experience at underage level with Australia, and through the Reds in his first season - having made his Super Rugby debut against the Highlanders when he was just 20. But he yearned to try something new and the Brumbies afforded him that opportunity.

"When you are that age, that's all you want to do. You want to represent your country whenever you can. Once you do that you want to get into the next bracket," he says.

Exciting "I wanted to play for the Reds but getting the opportunity to go down to Canberra was exciting and fresh. It's similar to where I am now."

The versatile back-row made the move to Canberra three years ago and in his inaugural campaign he claimed the Brett Robinson Players' Player of the Year award with the Brumbies.

Butler was progressing more and more every season with the Brumbies but when the chance to play in Europe popped up, it was too good to turn down.

He had only ever visited England and Italy but having seen the product Connacht had to offer, Butler didn't hesitate in choosing the Sportsground.

"I definitely wanted a change up. I wanted to be somewhere in Europe, playing a different style in rugby.

"I got the opportunity to come here, and with the way they played," says Butler. "With Pete Wilkins going there, speaking to him, he couldn't talk any higher of the place, the community and the place. I was excited by that and didn't want to pass that opportunity.

"I didn't really speak to Kieran Keane but I was excited to have a head coach that had been from New Zealand. I knew he would want to play some enterprising rugby like the Chiefs did and that played a big part."

Butler moved to Galway in the summer and quickly bedded in with a couple of fellow new arrivals in the shape of winger Rory Scholes and out-half Andrew Deegan.

It has been a poor start to the season for Connacht in the Guinness PRO14 where they have lost five of their six games under new head coach Keane.

But flanker Butler is thrilled to be getting so much game-time so soon in his Connacht career and outside of the dismal autumnal weather, he loves everything else Galway has had to offer.

"I knew it was going to rain a little bit so it's manageable. But the best thing about it is the people. They are so friendly," says Butler.

"Galway is a relatively small place but everybody has been so good and helpful and made the transition quite easy.

"Living with Andrew and Rory it makes it easier to settle in too. I met Scholes on the first day and both of us were looking for place so that worked out well.

"And then I spoke to Andrew before he was coming up, which was a bit after me, we planned for him to slot in as well. It makes it easier because everyone is on the same page.

"I wanted to play as much as I could. I knew they had some really good back-rowers here and I knew it would be a challenge to lock in a spot. At the moment I am just really excited about getting opportunities, trying to make the most of them and putting my best foot forward for Connacht Rugby."

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