Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global
NZ NZ

Jimmy Gopperth: 500 games and another milestone to come?

By Jon Newcombe
Jimmy Gopperth in action for Provence (Photo by Johnny Fidelin/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

As one of his many former clubs Leinster prepare to play in a record-equalling eighth Champions Cup final against Toulouse – the only team that can hold a torch to them in that regard – Jimmy Gopperth is basking in a major a milestone of his own: 500 professional games.

ADVERTISEMENT

Gopperth reached the landmark in Provence’s 40-22 win against Grenoble, marking the occasion with his first yellow card in six years.

It is an incredible feat, one verified by leading rugby statistician Stuart Farmer, especially as the fly-half/centre is only a matter of weeks away from his 41st birthday.

Next season, if his current club Provence convert their top-of-the-table Pro D2 regular-season finish into promotion via the play-offs, Gopperth will become the oldest player in Top 14 rugby history – overtaking the record held by fellow Kiwi Karena Wihongi.

Wihongi, a tight-head prop, was 40 years and 98 days old when he made his last top-flight appearance for Castres against Agen in January 2020. Gopperth, if selected, and there is no doubting he won’t be as he’s been first-choice this season, would be a whole year older.

The surfing enthusiast’s career began in windy Wellington back in 2002 and he has been riding the crest of a wave ever since, his journey from Junior All Black to middle-aged veteran taking in stops at the Hurricanes and Blues in Super Rugby, Newcastle, Wasps and Leicester in the English Premiership and Leinster in what was then known as the RaboDirect PRO 12.

ADVERTISEMENT

Gopperth is feeling as good as ever and sees no reason to stop. “I am fine for another season, I’m still trooping. I am lucky to be able to keep playing and do what I love, so I can’t complain at all,” he told RugbyPass.

“The love of the game inspires me to train hard. The motivation is still there, I was brought up on a farm so I have always had that good work ethic, I suppose, and hard work gets you places.

“So that’s been good, and also having a healthy balanced life: I have never dieted, I have never really taken on loads of protein and that kind of stuff, I just eat pretty clean, look after myself and train hard. It has got me to where I am now, so it works for me.”

After 500 games, 4,113 points, with the prospect of more to come, it is easy to see why Gopperth is so content.

ADVERTISEMENT

The North Islander puts his longevity in the sport down to not only his good physical shape but also his state of mind. Indulging in his passion for surfing, and more recently golf, help him to switch off and stay fresh

“I love surfing, I did it was I was in New Zealand, when I was at Newcastle and in Ireland, there is loads of surf over there. It went downhill a bit when I moved to the Midlands (to join Leicester) because, obviously, the oceans are pretty far apart and the in the South of France I have been surfing once, it is pretty flat down here, so I have had to take up golf,” he explained.

“Surfing you need a lot of core strength and shoulder stability. It is like swimming , you are using your arms and legs all the time, and that’s probably helped to grow those muscles and keep everything balanced.

“I think a key part of my longevity as well is having things outside of rugby, getting to go out surfing or go out on the golf course totally relaxes my mind. I don’t think about rugby when I am doing those things so I suppose the burn-out has been nullified for me because of those extra activities I do outside of the game.

“When I was younger I thought about rugby, 24-7, but the older I have got the more accustomed I am to what I need to do, to get my frame of mind where it has to be to compete at the highest level. To know when to switch that switch on and off has been a real key to my longevity.”

With his last two contracts involving moves to land-locked Leicester and then Provence, near the calm waters of the Med, surfing was clearly not at the forefront of his mind when putting pen to paper.

But when he was thinking about leaving New Zealand and heading overseas in his mid-20s in 2009, Gopperth says Biarritz would have been his ideal destination because he’d have been joining one of the best clubs in Europe at the time as well as one where the Atlantic rollers were easily accessible.

That never happened but even before Provence came up last summer, there was an opportunity to play in France, Gopperth having to choose between Newcastle and Perpignan.

“I had a few (options) but my first contract overseas came down to two clubs, Newcastle and Perpignan,” he said.

“I’d been talking to Dan Carter, because he’d just been at Perpignan, and he loved it, he said it was amazing. But at Newcastle, I had friends there, Carl Hayman, Tane Tu’ipulotu … a few Kiwis were there, so I knew people, and we also thought it would be easier to go to an English-speaking country, and my wife and I had just had our first child, she was only about 9 months old.”

Coming into a dressing room with the native of all natives Micky Ward in it, Gopperth was in for a shock if he thought there wouldn’t be a language barrier.

“It took me so long to understand Micky Ward, he was a proper, proper Geordie,” he remembers fondly.

“He is a hard man but a bloody good man.

“We do think from time to time what life might have been like had we moved to France straight away but we had an awesome time at Newcastle. The people there are great.”

Gopperth scored only a fraction less points for Newcastle as he did at Wasps, where he enjoyed the most successful period of his UK-based career (1,214 compared to 1,269), despite making 43 appearances fewer.

But it was at Wasps where he came closest to winning the Premiership, reaching the final twice only to be denied by Exeter on each occasion.

“That period at Wasps (2015-22), we had a brilliant team; we played free-flowing rugby and we were all on the same page.

“Personally, I played some brilliant rugby because our whole team was outstanding. I really enjoyed it but it was just unlucky that we missed out on a couple of Premiership titles.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the teams I have played with and it’s been pretty cool to experience the different way teams play and the different environments with all those internationals and stars that you play with, to see how they play the game and how they carry themselves. I have got some brilliant memories.”

In the meantime, the metronomic scorer of points is more than happy to keep drilling the kicks over as Provence try and muscle in on the Top 14 landscape.

“It (promotion) would be massive for the region and the team, it is a very, very young club, not that old at all. But it is a big area, Provence, and the neighbours would be Toulon and Montpellier, so some big teams would be coming here.

“It would be special to be part of the group that gets the club to the Top Quatorze (14), but there are still some big games to play so we’ll have to get through those first.”

“We finished top, the club have never been in the top six before, so to finish first is pretty cool.

“We automatically get a home semi-final so we don’t play this week and we’ll sit and watch to see how Grenoble and Dax get on (this Thursday). We play the winner of that match, the semi-final is on the 30th of May.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Join free

LIVE

{{item.title}}

Trending on RugbyPass

Comments

0 Comments
Be the first to comment...

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free
ADVERTISEMENT

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

FEATURE
FEATURE Eddie Jones turns to university talent in second coming as Japan coach Eddie Jones turns to university talent in second coming as Japan coach
Search