Wednesday 16 October 2019

Aussie back desperate to kick on after 'frustrating' first season

Big interview - Joe Tomane

Joe Tomane in action during Leinster’s pre-season friendly against Canada. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Tomane in action during Leinster’s pre-season friendly against Canada. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

It's almost four months to the day since the 2018/19 Leinster Rugby season finished in the rain in Celtic Park with Seán O'Brien raising the Guinness PRO14 trophy into the air.

Surrounding the Tullow man were his Leinster team-mates. Every player huddled around as he lifted a trophy in Leinster colours - or in a Leinster suit - for the last time.

One of those players was former Australian international Joe Tomane ,and like O'Brien, he was suited and booted.

A hamstring injury had ruled him out of a large chunk at the start of his first season at Leinster and then, just when he was getting a run of games under his belt, facing into the defining weeks, he was struck down again.

It is no real surprise that "frustration" is the word that the 17-times capped Australian international uses to describe that first season, but as he sets his sights on a first game of the new season, he feels good after a four-month break.

"Absolutely. The body feels good first and foremost, the mind feels refreshed and I hope I have those injuries behind me now. Yes, it was frustrating but that was then.

"Now I feel good, feel that my body is good and have really enjoyed working with Darragh (Curley) and Fearghal (Kerin) in our backroom team who have really helped me to get to this point.

"They've done a really good job in getting me and then keeping me on the pitch over the pre-season and I just want to get going."

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Being mentally refreshed is also key for Tomane, who used the summer break to get home.

"I got home for a couple of weeks and it was great to spend time with family and to see everyone.

"It was a long time between drinks with them and it is a long way away from home, so it was lovely to catch up. But it's not long before you start itching to get back to work and back to Leinster ."

They have three games under their belts in pre-season and three wins, but three games in four months, does it make the heart grow fonder?

"It's been a long break but I think it's been a good thing. There were some things that we needed to work on a bit more from last season but it also allowed us to grow as a team.

"That added few weeks together helped us massively, I feel, as a group. Also with a lot of young players coming in and the chance for them to integrate more, it is a help that there is a bit more time.

Energy

"They have brought huge energy to the place and they want to grab any chance that comes their way. They definitely keep you on your toes and that helps you to grow as a player and hopefully I can help them too as rugby players in whatever way I can."

The first chance will come this weekend but does the 6ft 2in, 16-stone centre feel additional pressure as a more senior player?

"I think we all do. Of course there are a few of us that are a little bit older than the others but what I like about the environment that we have is that all the boys are motivated to do well, all the boys want to play their part and drive the standards.

"They all want a jersey and that is a brilliant way for the club to be. We all know that there are opportunities for us over the next few weeks with the players away to lay a claim on a jersey and we want to make sure that the club is in the best place possible for when those players come back from Irish duty.

"We want them to slip back in with ease to a club and a set-up in a really good place."

This weekend the players will get that first opportunity in Italy against Benetton Rugby, a team that Leinster, and others, have struggled with over the last few seasons.

"They have 15 players away in Japan with Italy but Tomane - who scored his first Leinster try in this fixture last season - has seen enough in his previous two meetings to know that they have plenty of options.

"Their back-three, for me, are where they are really dangerous; very strong, powerful wingers and they can cut you apart if you are not switched on and then we have also spoken about the knowledge that Ian Keatley brings of us and of how we play the game.

"They've a big pack and I know we have done a lot of work analysing that and I know our forwards will have a big job on their hands but I've no doubt that they will deliver.

"We've all worked hard as a unit on our defence over the last few months so we'll be doing our very best to contain them and then hopefully score some points ourselves."

Recent run-ins also help focus the minds.

"They drew with us last year in the RDS, beat us in the RDS the year before, so for us there is plenty about them and their team to occupy our minds and that's a good thing to keep us sharp. But ultimately we want to bring it back on us and about what we want to do.

"The pre-season as I mentioned has been really good, I've really enjoyed it but it's all about building towards that first game and then executing what you have been working on. Everyone is excited for that challenge now and the opportunity."

As he chats in the players' kitchen in Leinster Rugby HQ in UCD, the England and Tonga game is being replayed on the big screen on eir Sport.

Playing

Having played in the 2015 Rugby World Cup he knows all about playing at the very highest level, so what has he made of the action so far?

"It's been good. Plenty of incidents to get people talking, good scores, good rugby. Very enjoyable."

And with 14 Leinster team-mates there surely an even keener eye on proceedings than normal?

"I'm keeping on eye on Ireland, on Australia and on Samoa too. I just hope everyone comes through injury-free."

He chooses to sit even higher on the fence when tasked with picking which of the three will go furthest.

"I'm just tipping for good quality rugby! And hopefully plenty more of that to come in Japan and in Italy this weekend!"

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