Wednesday 26 June 2019

'Medical joker' Mathewson aiming to get serious again

All Black on his 11th club but feels the time may be right to settle down – and Munster seem willing to accommodate him

Alby Mathewson is enoying life with Munster - his 11th club in a career that has taken him all over the world. Photo: Sportsfile
Alby Mathewson is enoying life with Munster - his 11th club in a career that has taken him all over the world. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

They still love Alby Mathewson in Toulon.

When the three-time European champions' fall from grace was dealt another hammer blow with a humiliating away defeat to Edinburgh in October, one of their supporters pleaded with colourful owner Mourad Boudjellal to repatriate the Kiwi scrum-half.

Mathewson replied to the forlorn fan on Twitter; "Je reviens peut etre". "I will return, perhaps." He smiles when you remind him of it.

Injuries

"No, I don't think so. I said to him, one day maybe, because they were having a lot of injuries. But no."

Ironically, the only reason he pitched up in this country was because Munster were also enduring their own injury crisis at scrum-half but there is a sense now that the 33-year-old would like to settle down.

The medical joker wants to get serious. Preferably at Munster.

"It is tough with the rules here, or everywhere I guess, but whether it is here or somewhere else, long-term," he confirms.

"Yes, at 33, people might say it is old, but I look after myself and I know I can keep proving to myself and people that it doesn't matter where I go, I can play and perform at a high level and I know I can do it for at least another couple of years, or a few years, whatever.

"I have loved it so far. Obviously, I am here until March at the moment and when that time comes around we will see what happens.

"I would like to stay because I was here from the start of the season and once it gets to March there is only two months left in the season.

"It is obviously not up to me, really, but just take it as it is at the moment and then see what happens in the future."

As an overseas player, however, any such deal would not be straightforward as Munster already have a trio of South Africans on their books.

And there is already another overseas scrum-half in the Irish system, albeit Jamison Gibson-Park will soon qualify for Ireland.

Regardless of the convoluted paperwork in HQ, Johann van Graan's enthusiastic acclaim for the peripatetic player might seem to be indicative of a prevailing mood down south, at least.

"He's a brilliant player," says the head coach. "I have really enjoyed my time with him. When we got approval from the IRFU to look for a shot-term nine, it was great to get a player if his quality.

"He's a true professional. The way he looks after his body, the way he does his homework, the way he trains, the way he helps the other nines.

Speculate

"It's just great to have him around. He is a great asset to have in any team.

"Look, currently he is signed until March. We are working within the Irish system and we'll take it day by day. I wouldn't like to speculate on his future."

For someone good enough to be capped - twice - by the All Blacks, it seems slightly odd that speculation should form part of his future; then again, it has shaped his past, too.

Remarkably, Munster represents his 11th port of call, spanning both hemispheres and five different countries, from the South Island of New Zealand to the French Med and from Western Australia to the West Country of England.

Little wonder he wants some stability in his professional, and personal life.

"For me, long-term would be ideal," he agrees. "It has been tough the last two years for me.

"I have lived in five countries the last two years, just picking up contracts here and there.

"I am looking for something long-term. It is tough on my family. My oldest son is eight, he has been to five different schools in the last two years and this is probably the toughest period.

"I have never been away from him for this long and obviously over Christmas it makes it even tougher.

"But I sort of said to him that it is not forever. And so just for myself and for them, a long-term contract is the plan."

His All Blacks career was limited; his last cap being the 38-10 Dublin victory in 2010 but, two years earlier, he had first tasted the special Thomond Park atmosphere when featuring in the famous Maori All Blacks clash.

"When I came back here this year, it was exactly the same as I remembered from 2008, just how loud the crowd was, but then also how quiet the crowd was for goal-kickers.

"Obviously coming from the southern hemisphere, I had never experienced anything like that.

Off-putting

"It was strange, so everyone who was in the northern hemisphere for the first time with the All Blacks, we were all sitting on the bench and when it went quiet, we couldn't believe it.

"It was probably more off-putting for our kickers than if the crowd was yelling so it was a different experience.

"Then you had the haka from the other side, Munster's Kiwi boys doing it and that sort of thing.

"It was a really cool occasion and obviously for me, playing my first game with the All-Blacks, it was a close game that we managed to win. It was a great experience.

"But obviously Munster have a great support base and they're one of the best crowds I have ever played for."

And a crowd he wants to stay for.

"I have never given up because I know there are always injuries. But I know up in this hemisphere, it's going to have to be a medical joker.

"I was lucky that this came up pretty quickly. Obviously the tough period is in between seasons when nobody is playing and nobody is training.

"But for the past two years, that's what I've been having to rely on to get contracts. My mindset was to stay ready when a team calls and be ready to go."

Except now he'd prefer not to have to go anywhere else.

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