Sport Rugby

Sunday 21 July 2019

'I couldn't understand anything anyone was saying here'

South African happy with new deal as he adjusts to life out west after getting over 'language barrier'

Connacht's Danie Poolman
Connacht's Danie Poolman

Daragh Small

Danie Poolman is loving life in the West of Ireland. His new two-year contract extension was an ideal early birthday present and he has come a long way since his arrival at the Sportsground almost three years ago.

He turned 26 on Tuesday and despite the cruel defeat at Cardiff Arms Park last week it has been a largely positive season for the South African.

He has notched seven tries in 20 appearances this term and is starting to feel more at home in the Connacht midfield, where he was drafted in by default.

It's a stark contrast to the loneliness he felt after he left his homeland in the summer of 2012 - a familiar face in former Connacht hooker Ethienne Reynecke was his saving grace.

"In Cape Town in the winter you get a lot of rain and wind but it was a lot colder here. So it was difficult to adapt especially when are not able to understand the accents at all," he recalls.

"I remember when I went down for breakfast for the first time with the lads. All I did was order my food because I didn't understand anything anyone was saying.

"So that was quite an adjustment but at least I knew Ethienne. He was still here and I knew him from back home, he helped me settle in a bit.

"Saying that, the whole squad was pretty good but it did take a while especially away from home and not seeing the family - that was quite tough but I adjusted and I am enjoying it now.

"When I got here first I was in the Connacht Hotel for two weeks and then moved in with Ethienne for about six or seven months. After that I moved in on my own before I eventually started living with Tiernan O'Halloran."

Ironically it was O'Halloran who wore the No 14 jersey against Cardiff - the ex-Western Stormer is more accustomed to playing on the right wing but a combination of injury and Robbie Henshaw's international call-up meant Poolman was needed to fill the gap in the centre.

But with 51 games and 15 tries in green his experience has worked a treat and he has adapted his game accordingly to the outside-centre role.

"I played a bit at centre when I came over and I played centre in junior rugby as well," Poolman explains.

"I have always liked to get involved in the midfield and I was excited when Pat Lam told me that I needed to help out and play a bit at centre.

Adjustment

"It was a bit of an adjustment at first but now that I know the certain little cues that I have to look for, just to help out with my positioning and defence and wait to go at the right time.

"I am really enjoying it - getting my hands on the ball a lot more and getting a few more passes and putting guys into space. It is a different challenge but I am ready for it.

"The way we play, in our defence we bring a lot of line-speed and it is a lot more difficult there in defence.

"If you are on the wing you just cover your 13. If your 13 shoots you just cover his back but at 13 you make the decision to shoot in or not and sometimes it can be quite difficult.

"It is a bit more physical, you make a lot more tackles. You could be carrying into a brick wall a bit more so that is something I need to adjust to."

Next on the list is a possible international call-up but despite becoming Irish-qualified in the summer Poolman wants to focus and put in the performances for his province first and foremost and see what happens after that.

"I wouldn't say I ever gave up on my dream to play for South Africa. I thought if I came over here and played a few seasons I might go back. But then I started to really enjoy it here and I want to stay here now.

"We have a bit of interaction with Joe Schmidt so we will see what he wants from his players. I will just keep trying to play well for Connacht and keep scoring tries week in week out and if he selects me then that would be really great.

"At the moment though I think it might be difficult to get into the Ireland team because everyone is playing really well and there is a lot of good wingers and centres out there.

"Joe Schmidt is building with a certain squad towards the World Cup. I will obviously just keep doing my best for Connacht and if that happens it does, if it doesn't I wouldn't be too fussed about it."

For the time being, it's all systems go towards Connacht's top-six finish in the Pro12 and an extended run in the Challenge Cup, with the quarter-final clash with Gloucester just weeks away.

Silverware would be the perfect way to end a good year for Poolman but he is taking it game by game as he looks forward to at least two more years in the green of Connacht and maybe the green of Ireland.

"I was very happy to sign the new deal, some of the other guys had signed up already and I was really keen to stay," he says.

"We have a great bunch of lads here and it is working really well between us and the coaches and the way we play now.

"It would be great to win something at the end of the season and that is one of our goals. Hopefully we can go well.

"But either way I am really enjoying playing my rugby here. I am really keen to stay and delighted that the offer came through."

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