“RCT is the dream club”: the secrets of the new recruit Ihaia West

Rochelais from 2018 to 2022, Ihaia West has decided to give his career a new boost. Now from Toulon for the next three seasons, the New Zealand debutant, fresh off European champions, will look to bring his knowledge of the game, attacking flair and experience to an RCT he would like to bring back at the pinnacle of French and European rugby. Smile and ambition.

You had your first group session this Thursday. How was it?

To tell you the truth, I went to Greece and Italy during my holidays, and I tried to take a break to take advantage of this free time, so the recovery was… sporty (laughs)! It’s been physical but I’m super motivated, and happy to start this adventure. We spend a short week in Toulon with my wife, we begin to familiarize ourselves with the region, the city, the training center.

Do you know a little about the area?

A little, since my wife and I had taken a short trip between Nice and Marseille. I’ve always heard that the south of France is one of the most magnificent places in the world, so I’ll give you an update in a few months (laughs).

Have you settled here with your family?

We moved in with my wife, our dog and our suitcases (laughs). My wife is currently pregnant and due to give birth in October… I imagine our life will change!

30 years old, soon to be a father: was it time to give a new impetus to your life, to your career?

He had been from Rochelais for four years and everything was going wonderfully. But sometimes, when you know a little too much about a context, you can get into a form of comfort that is not recommended at the highest level. And to relaunch in a place like Toulon, with a huge history and real ambition… RCT is the dream club to give my career a new boost. It is in a period of transition, with new coaches, several recruits, everything has come together… Now I would like the RCT to find the place where it should be.

You leave La Rochelle with a title of European champion. Paradoxically, isn’t it frustrating to leave the club when it’s at its peak?

On the contrary: when you hit rock bottom, especially with two lost finals in 2021, and thanks to a lot of work and a big challenge, you gave yourself the chance to relive something crazy… Then it was probably the best time. have a new experience, meet new people, take on a new challenge.

So why Toulon?

At the time, the leaders of La Rochelle didn’t know if they would offer me a new contract and Toulon came forward, they showed a real interest and that touched me. I had other opportunities, especially in the UK, but when Toulon is interested in you, it’s hard not to be seduced (smiles). So I chose the RCT in December.

Have you considered returning to New Zealand to try and fight for selection?

Never! My wife and I love our French life and it was never a question of going back to New Zealand this summer. Then the coach doesn’t need me (laughs). Will it be a shame not to count the selection after my career? I do not think so. I’m happy with my career, and especially with my years in New Zealand (with the Blues and the Hurricanes). I have always given the best of myself. And now I understand that the national team will not appear, so I want to focus on my club career and try to win as many competitions as possible.

In an interview, Bernard Lemaitre explained that you were a choice of Patrice Collazo, who has since left the club. Could it have changed your will?

Not because, before signing, he had come to Toulon and Franck (Azéma) had already taken his position. He explained to me what he expected from me, then we talked about rugby, we talked about the philosophy that reigns within the club, its ambitions and I think we are on the same wavelength.

What did you know about RCT before participating?

When you grow up in New Zealand, you watch a lot of European games, but everyone knew that Toulon were the only club to have won three European titles in a row. With us, the two most famous clubs are Toulon and Toulouse. So the RCT represented a lot in my eyes as a young rugby player. Then great players from New Zealand played here, so it was a dream for me to wear this jersey one day. I never imagined it would happen, but I feel privileged to have the opportunity today.

What are your goals?

An opening act must lead the team, optimize its qualities. So I want to help the boys practice their best rugby. I’ll be doing a lot of video, going over the game plan with the staff and the leaders, to make sure I understand how the team works. A number 10 has to be the pilot of the game, and I will try to fill that role.

This season, although there are several all-rounders, you will be the only one opening the lineup. Do you have any particular pressure?

A lot of guys can play 10 at a really good level, so I won’t consider myself the only first player. I don’t want to focus on that. I prefer all potential openers to work together so we stand up. We all need to have good teammates to give the best of ourselves.

Louis Carbonel’s departure was heartbreaking for the RCT audience. You are their replacement and naturally there will be high expectations of you. How do you understand this context?

I understand your disappointment, but I am Ihaia West, not Louis Carbonel, just like Jonny Wilkinson… I want to be myself on the pitch, and I can already assure you that I will give everything for this shirt. Obviously, I understand the disappointment of the public linked to the departure of Louis Carbonel: he is a son of the region, a brilliant opener, who has always played for the club, who has become a man here… Also, I I would like the best of Montpellier but I don’t want to compare myself… Then I’m not the one who signs the contracts, so I can only be the best version of Ihaia West possible.

Villiere, Waisea, Serin, Kolbe, etc. What does it mean to be an opening act?

This is completely insane. There are players who are among the best in the world in their position. There are brilliant creators, who know how to occupy space even if they don’t exist… When you see what they can do with the ball, it’s exciting for a starter. So I’ll try to get them to express themselves as best as possible, to score tries, to help the team win.

There are often debates about your success rate against poles. Does that bother you?

No, because I have enough experience to make my own self-criticism. You can have a good game, but the key is knowing how to recover when things don’t go so well. It doesn’t affect me because this debate exists but because sometimes I can’t help the team as much as I would have liked to.

You can go 100% three matches in a row, but miss the next one. How do you explain this change of mind?

I don’t know, if I knew, it wouldn’t happen anymore! All scorers have off days, but when it happens, the goal is to make sure that bad game doesn’t turn into a really bad game. If you miss one, then two, you need to get your head straight.

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