In his first column since joining the Sharks – on loan from French club, Brive – rugby365.com columnist Andy Goode reflects on a whirlwind few weeks that have taken him from London to Brive, to Singapore to Christchurch and, eventually, to Durban.
Phew, so where do I begin?
In my last column, just before Christmas, I had just gone under the knife for a second time this season (to have my appendix out!); and had yet to play my final match for Brive, before being loaned out to the Sharks – where I currently find myself.
It’s been one helluva journey for me… a whirlwind experience actually and I will try and take you through a few highlights.
Actually, it all happened pretty quickly.
I made my return for Brive against the Scarlets in our final Heineken Cup pool match and then I was not allowed to play in a Top 14 match that Wednesday afterwards (against Montauban), having just had the operation, so I went to America with my family on a short holiday.
The best five weeks of my life
When I got back, the Sharks phoned me and two days later I was on a plane heading to Christchurch – via Singapore. Yes, that’s how quickly it happened.
I won’t lie… I was a bit nervous sitting on the aeroplane heading out to meet my new teammates – a new team environment is always daunting, but it took me all of two days to fit right into this Sharks side; all the guys went out of their way to make me feel welcome! (I still get a few ‘Pom’ comments thrown my way in the changeroom – but I wouldn’t want it any other way!)
There had been talk of a divided squad – with rumours of in-fighting – and I was asked this many times, but I can honestly say that I have never been part of a happier squad; both on and off the field.
This Sharks squad is a very close-knit group, they’re like one happy family (and are also very family-orientated), and the tour was probably the best five weeks of my life – aside, of course, from missing my family.
Our first game was against the Crusaders, probably not my best start considering that I was yellow-carded soon after coming on, but I was quite shell-shocked afterwards… considering that just a few days earlier I was freezing in Brive… and here I was, sitting in Christchurch and having a few beers after the game with my old Leicester Tigers teammates, Jamie Hamilton and Daryl Gibson. (Both are now part of the Crusaders coaching staff – it was great seeing them, especially Gibbo’s new ‘straight’ nose!)
From there it was off to Sydney, and we had 12 days on the beach in Manly, before we hit Canberra, Queenstown (for bungee-jumping!) and, finally, Wellington. All the stops were memorable – for their own reasons – and the opportunity was made even better by my new teammates… and the rugby!
The rugby, of course, was tough, but with a bit of luck we could have come back with four wins from five starts; I thought we very unlucky against the Waratahs and the Brumbies. Those last two games, in Dunedin and Wellington, showed our character, however, and it has kept those faint semifinal hopes of ours alive – something that not many people would have believed possible after our poor start.
Pinch me, am I dreaming?
However, as amazing as the tour was, I was absolutely blown away by my return to Durban and my first match at the Absa Stadium.
Winning Heineken Cups and Premiership titles with Leicester Tigers, and playing for England, are obviously major highlights in my rugby career thus far, but that atmosphere and support at the Shark Tank against the Reds was absolutely incredible.
The whole build-up to the kick-off was very special and I am literally pinching myself every day at the moment – the stadium, the support, my new teammates, the lifestyle (I’m living next to the beach!); I’m a very lucky guy and this experience has had me feeling like a kid again… despite having turned 30 on the day that we beat the Reds…
I was lucky enough to take a little break last week, and I took the family into the bush, which was also quite simply amazing. But, as relaxing as that was, we’ve been hard at work since Monday ahead of this coming weekend’s trip to Johannesburg.
Having played against overseas teams only, up till now, I am looking forward to my first taste of ‘proper’ South African rugby – a derby match, which means all past and present form will count for nothing come Saturday evening.
One game at a time…
The Lions have not had the greatest of seasons… but all will be forgotten should they up their game and beat us.
For us, it’s important that we concentrate on our own game(s) and play to our potential – if we do that, there is no reason why we cannot win and that would then keep us in contention for a semifinal place.
It might sound clichéd, but we are just taking things one step at a time – game-by-game – right now. There is small chance of us still making the semifinals. Sure, it could depend on other results going our way, too, but – for now – all we can do is win our remaining games and hope that everything else takes care of itself.
Before I sign off this week, I must apologise profusely for having gone ‘walkabout’ over the past few months.
It’s great to be able to be in touch again, and – on that note – I have to make a mention of my old Brive teammate Lachie McKay who has been looking after our beloved dog in our absence.
Lachie, thanks a million pal… I hope you enjoy your break this week.
Until next time,
This article is courtesy of rugby365.com