500 games and another milestone to come?

As Leinster, one of his many former clubs, prepares to play in a record-equalling eighth European Champions Cup final against Toulouse – the only team who could carry the torch for them in that regard – Jimmy Gopperth is relishing a major achievement of his own: 500 professional games.

Gopperth reached the milestone in Provence's 40-22 win over Grenoble, marking the occasion with his first yellow card in six years.

It's an astonishing achievement, verified by chief rugby statistician Stuart Farmer, especially as the fly-half/center is just weeks away from his 41st birthday.

Next season, if his current club Provence converts a regular season lead in Pro D2 into promotion via the playoffs, Gopperth will become the oldest player in the history of Top 14 Rugby – surpassing the record held by his fellow New Zealander. Karina Weihonji.

A big-headed player, Weihonje was 40 years and 98 days old when he last made his Premier League appearance for Castres against Agen in January 2020. If Gopperth is selected, there is no doubt he will not be the same. The first choice this season, he will be a full year older.

The surfing enthusiast's career began in the windy city of Wellington in 2002, and since then he has been riding the crest of the waves, going from Junior All Black to middle-aged veteran, making stops for the Hurricanes and Blues in Super Rugby and Newcastle and Wasps. Leicester in the Premier League and Leinster in what was then known as the RaboDirect PRO 12.

Gopperth feels as good as ever and sees no reason to stop. “I'm fine for another season, I'm still in good shape. I'm lucky to be able to keep playing and doing what I love, so I can't complain at all.

“The love of the game inspires me to train hard. The motivation is still there. I grew up on a farm, so I've always had a good work ethic, I guess, and hard work will get you places.”

“So that's been good, and also having a healthy, balanced life: I've never dieted, I've never eaten high amounts of protein and that kind of thing, I just eat completely clean and take care of myself and train hard. It's gotten me to where I am now, so It suits me.”

After 500 games and 4,113 points, with the potential for more to come, it's easy to see why Gopperth feels so satisfied.

The North Islander attributes his longevity in the sport not only to his good physical form but also to his state of mind. Indulging his passion for surfing, and more recently golf, helps him get going and stay fresh

“I love surfing, I did it when I was in New Zealand, when I was in Newcastle and in Ireland, there's a lot of surfing there. Things went downhill a bit when I moved to the Midlands (to join Leicester) because obviously the oceans are so far apart and in the south France I was surfing once, it's very flat here, so I had to play golf.

“Surfing needs a lot of core strength and shoulder stability. It's like swimming, you're using your arms and legs all the time, and that probably helped those muscles grow and keep everything balanced.”

“I think a key part of my longevity as well is that there are things outside of rugby, going out surfing or going out on the golf course, that completely relax me. I'm not thinking about rugby when I'm doing those things, so I think the fatigue has been negated for me Because of those extra activities I do outside of the game.

“When I was younger I used to think about rugby, 24-7, but the older I get the more I get used to what I have to do, to get my frame of mind to where I need to be to compete at the highest level. Knowing when to turn that switch on and off has been key Real life long.

Although his last two contracts have involved a move to landlocked Leicester and then to Provence, near the calm waters of the Mediterranean, surfing was clearly not at the forefront of his mind when he put pen to paper.

But when he was considering leaving New Zealand and heading abroad in his mid-20s in 2009, Gopperth said Biarritz was his ideal destination because he would have joined one of the top clubs in Europe at the time as well as one of the best clubs in Europe. Where the rollers of the Atlantic Ocean are easily accessible.

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

“I had a few (options) but my first contract abroad was with two clubs, Newcastle and Perpignan,” he said.

“I was talking to Dan Carter, because he had just been in Perpignan, and he loved it, and said it was amazing. But in Newcastle, I had friends there, Carl Hayman, Tani Tou Ippouloutu… There were a few New Zealanders there, so I knew people We also thought it would be easier to go to an English-speaking country, and my wife and I had just given birth to our first child, and she was only about 9 months old.

Walking into the locker room with Micky Ward, an All-Indigenous national, Gopperth would have been in shock if he thought there wouldn't be a language barrier.

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

“He's a tough guy but a very good guy.

“We think from time to time what life would have been like if we had moved to France straight away, but we had a great time in Newcastle. The people there are great.”

Gopperth scored slightly fewer points for Newcastle as he did for the Wasps, enjoying the most successful period of his UK career (1,214 compared to 1,269), despite appearing in 43 fewer matches.

But it was at Wasps that they came close to winning the Premier League, reaching the final twice but being denied by Exeter on each occasion.

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

“Personally, I played great rugby because our whole team was fantastic. I really enjoyed it but it was unfortunate that we missed out on two Premier League titles.

“I've been very lucky with the teams I've played with, and it's been great to experience the different ways the teams play and the different environments with all these international players and the stars you play with, to see how they play the game and how they play.” They carry themselves. I have some great memories.”

Meanwhile, the Metronomic scorer is happy to keep taking kicks as Provence attempts to enter the Top1 4 landscape.

“It (the promotion) will be massive for the region and the team, it's a very small club, not big at all. But it's a big region, Provence, and the neighbors will be Toulon and Montpellier, so some big teams will come here.”

“It will be special to be part of the group that has taken the club to the top of Quatre (14), but there are still some big games to play, so we have to get through them first.”

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

“We automatically get a home semi-final, so we won't play this week and will sit and watch to see how Grenoble and DAX play (this Thursday).” We will play the winner of that match, and the semi-final will be on the 30thy May.”


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