Wednesday 13 December 2017

Gopperth warms to the task

Jimmy Gopperth, Leinster in action during squad training
Jimmy Gopperth, Leinster in action during squad training

Marcus ó Buachalla

Jimmy Gopperth is a man used to filling some pretty big boots. He was brought in to Newcastle Falcons to replace the departing Jonny Wilkinson and he did a pretty good job there.

In his first season in 2009, he scored 219 points in 22 appearances in the Aviva Premiership. He managed a similar feat in his second season and it wasn't long before people began to talk. With Johnny Sexton moving to France, soon Leinster people began to talk. It was time to fill some big boots again.

"To be fair it wasn't like it was a huge jump – it was just across the ditch! Not like the decision in 2009 to move 30 hours from the Auckland Blues to Newcastle, but a huge motivating factor was I wanted to win and that remains the case. I want to win games and I want to win trophies and, thankfully, we are still involved in the Pro12 and even the B&I Cup, so it's a big few weeks ahead."


That 30 hours is still an issue, though. He has only been home once in five years and, with a young family living in Balinteer, it isn't easy being so far from home.

"Sarah, my wife, is a local girl too. We met when I was playing with the Hurricanes in Wellington, so it's not easy on her either. My mum for example hasn't even met our youngest boy Weston, who is a year in May, but, hopefully, she will be over in September."

Hopping on a plane home isn't as simple as you'd expect either.

"We get the month of June off at Leinster, but with our daughter Bayley attending primary school, it isn't quite as easy as just heading off for a few weeks. She has settled really well in school and actually has a lovely bunch of mates living in the area too.

"With the long evenings and, hopefully, good weather to come, the front door will be open and any amount of kids will be running around from house to house enjoying themselves. We really have settled well."

Happy off the pitch and happy on the pitch too. His relationship with the coaching staff has helped the New Zealander settle in to his new surroundings.

"Matt (O'Connor) is a really good coach, but then you throw into the mix Jono Gibbes, Greg Feek and Richie Murphy, who we work quite a bit with as skills coach, they complement each other really well.

"It will be difficult to lose Jono at the end of the year, but Leo stepping up and having that continuity and having a guy that 'gets' Leinster is a huge plus."

The battle for supremacy at 10 though is an intriguing one. Ian Madigan for Munster. Gopperth for Toulon. Horses for courses.

"There is a really strong rivalry between Ian and I. It's a healthy respect for what each of us brings to the table. But we also get on really well, so while we are very competitive people, I am there to help him out – as is he with me.

"We want Leinster to win and yes you want personal game time, but we have to be realistic as well and we need the two of us chomping at the bit if Leinster are to succeed."

There has been quite some talk, though, about game management at national level and influences from above for Ian to get game time, but Jimmy plays it straight.

"We have no clue! You just hope that at the start of the week it is your name that Matt calls out and if it is, you go all out to ensure that we get the performance that we need."

That performance has been lacking lately and it is not often that this or any Leinster team are facing into a potential third loss on the trot, but Gopperth is confident that they have identified the tweaks that need to be made.

"I think when you look at the Toulon game, or even the Ospreys game, discipline was a huge factor. You just can't give Wilkinson or Matt Giteau or even Dan Biggar seven or eight opportunities to kick at goal.


"We said before the Toulon game we couldn't allow them to get a march on us and go three, six, nine up, but we did. We gave them those chances.

"But I also think it is small margins. A different bounce of the ball on that line-out against Toulon for their first try and maybe we manufacture something, instead a messy kick through, a try and at the start of the second half when you are looking to build you are suddenly on the back foot.

"We got some really good returns from high contestable kicks to Dave Kearney against Toulon, but clever knock backs from him and who do they go to? Mathieu Bastareaud! Of all people! But they are momentum shifts.

"I think we saw that again against the Ospreys. A bounce of a ball here, a bounce of a ball there. It might be luck but you create your own luck too and a few months ago we were in the right spots to capitalise on those bounces."

What of the ill-discipline though, if it is that easy to spot, why is it happening?

"We were missing far too many one-on-one tackles. Again margins. If you make that first tackle, then you can get structure. If the opposition break your first tackle, then you are scrambling, scrambling back to defend and to get structure and in your haste, you make mistakes, little errors but ones that a referee will ping you for. If we chop them first up, it's not an issue and we stop their momentum."

Three regular season games left for Leinster and plenty left to play for.

"Bottom line is we want a home semi and then, hopefully, a home final. We know what we have to do to get that. We have to win every week. We will take it week by week, but we will put everything into it. Destiny is in our own hands and coming to the end of the year that's where you want to be."

There is also the small matter of a grand auld stretch in the evening. Great for the kids and for the little kid within each of the Leinster players too.

"The start of the season and the end of the season. Good weather, fast pitches, players in good spirits. You want to be involved and, hopefully, we'll have a few more days out yet."

Irish Independent Supplement

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