Monday 16 September 2019

'I wanted to be tested as a player and I feel I have that here'

Former Wallaby is enjoying the culture at Leinster and has no regrets since move from Montpellier, writes Marcus Ó Buachalla

Joe Tomane is tackled by Adam Hastings and Ali Price of Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Tomane is tackled by Adam Hastings and Ali Price of Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Joe Tomane will say it to you himself. Would he prefer his first season to have gone better? Yes. But by the same token he is pretty philosophical in his views. Injuries happen and you have two choices.

To take a step back for a moment, Australian international Tomane arrived on these shores with a big reputation and an even bigger, imposing frame. The 6' 2" and 16 stone-plus back arrived from Montpellier and all was going well. Nine games in and a try to his name for Leinster but then injury struck. Thirty-eight minutes is all he lasted in the game against the Southern Kings and suddenly his season was on the ropes. Two choices. Back down or come back fighting.

"I think you can see those moments a few different ways, but for me I think I look at it as a blessing in disguise. Was it unfortunate? Yes. I'd have preferred to have built my way into form and a team while playing on the pitch. But it happened so I took it as a chance to have a really good look at myself and ask myself some honest questions. Where was I physically?

"Was I where I needed to be? And being honest I needed that time away to get those basics better. So to be at my best, what could I do and I went away and I worked with the medics and the S&C guys here to see could I come back better and I think I have done that. I am in a better head space certainly and physically I feel good so for me I just feel now that I am in a place to show the Leinster fans just what I can do."

It's not that he was in a bad place to begin with. Two of his nine games had been in the Champions Cup, including a start away to Toulouse.

But he just felt it wasn't quite clicking for him. Since he's come back from the hamstring injury he's had three games under his belt and in particular against Benetton Rugby and Glasgow, the RDS faithful have seen the player that so often terrorised Leinster defences when he was running at them in Montpellier colours.

"Even looking towards next season and having this year under my belt and then having a good pre-season with Leinster, I feel I will be so much better for it. But you know while the injury was disappointing, I wouldn't change a thing.

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"The move has been great for me and for my wife, Anastasia, not only the Leinster culture and the club, which is pretty special but also the Irish culture and how welcoming everyone has been. It's great that I am enjoying my rugby but off the pitch has to be good too and thankfully it has worked out really well."

Head coach Leo Cullen said when announcing Tomane's signature that he looked forward to hearing his unique view of Leinster. So as someone that had studied and attempted to find weakness in this Leinster team while preparing for games with Montpellier, what were his thoughts?

"A very good team. And that was really about the detail. Any time we played Leinster you could see it in the way they played. There was a rhythm to it, a flow to how they played and you could see that everything was so precise and you only get that by being close as a team, as a family."

When the move was a possibility, he sought the opinion of another former Wallaby, Scott Fardy, and thankfully the conversation didn't disappoint.

"I mentioned the culture earlier and that was the same when I spoke to Fards. He pretty much reinforced what I thought from the outside looking in... of a really close group of players, of an environment where not only players but people thrive. It was an easy decision to make then when he reinforced my own opinion of the place and of the club.

"Then you come in here and you see it up close. You see why people do well and why the team play like it plays. The performance doesn't just happen. It happens because of the detail, because of the work and because everyone works for each other. It's a special place to be and to be a part of."

His period of adaptation certainly wasn't helped by the injury that sidelined him for four months but the style of rugby was different too.

"France was a great experience and I loved my time in Montpellier, good people, a great club but it is definitely different. In the Top 14 it is hugely physical, confrontational, whereas I think with the Guinness PRO14 it is more skill-based, so more like the Super Rugby. So again that takes some time to get used to again and to work my way into a team that liked to play more.

"But that's what I wanted. I didn't want to just go to another team. I wanted to go somewhere that tested me again as a rugby player and I definitely feel that I have that with Leinster. The challenge has been great and exactly what I wanted. The climate is a little warmer in Montpellier but the rugby here reminds me more of home."

He says that off the back of a glorious weekend of sunshine in the capital and a sample of what a summer in Dublin can be like.

"I enjoyed the Vitamin D over the weekend all right! But actually I quite like the cold, which is maybe unusual for a Pacific Islander! So it's been nice here. Not too warm, not too cold!"

Reflection

He has already touched on next season but that's not to say that he feels his contribution this season is done. More a reflection on where he feels he can get to as a Leinster player.

"We could yet have four games left to play this season but this club is always about a next-game approach. So it's Ulster this week and you saw how much they pushed us to our absolute limit a few weeks back.

"A final home game of the regular season for them, two Irish clubs again, a full house and plenty of blue fans there too, it will be a special occasion that's for sure.

"And then hopefully we have a few more days of rugby left yet and a few trophies to play for but what I mean more is that I think there is more in me and the Leinster fans will see more and I can't wait to get better and to help this team achieve all that they can."

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