Aussie Addition

Wallaby-capped centre Godwin gets 'good change-up' at Connacht

The Zimbabwe-born midfielder is hoping to make a big impact in midfield for Andy Friend’s side.

STANDING OUTSIDE THE Buccaneers RFC clubhouse in Athlone, new Connacht signing Kyle Godwin is a long way from home.

“I’ve seen the sun once or twice since I got here, so I’m getting used to it,” jokes the 25-year-old, who has just impressed in his side’s pre-season win over Wasps.

The intelligent centre has been capped by the Wallabies once but his native land is actually Zimbabwe.

Kyle Godwin James Crombie / INPHO Godwin starred for Connacht in Athlone last week. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Having been born in the capital city of Harare, Godwin’s life shifted to Perth in Australia when he was eight as his parents recognised that Zimbabwe was heading towards turmoil and economic collapse under president Robert Mugabe.

This tale might sound familiar and, coincidentally, David Pocock’s family owned the farm next door to Godwin’s cousin before the Pococks moved to Australia in the early 2000s.

So it was that Godwin developed as a young rugby player in Perth, rising through the ranks to make his Super Rugby for the Western Force at the age of just 19.

He shone at out-half for the Australia U20s in the 2012 World Championship, before going on to establish himself as a key man for the Force.

Godwin’s card was marked – future star of Australian rugby.

The prodigious youngster was set for a senior Wallabies call-up in 2013 after an outstanding first full season of Super Rugby but that opportunity was ruined by a shoulder injury.

In 2014, a knee issue struck to deny him the chance to play in the June Tests against France.

Godwin, still only 22, did recover to be called into the Wallabies squad for the 2014 November tour of Europe under new boss Michael Cheika but the centre wasn’t capped on that trip.

France v Australia - International Match - Stade de France SIPA USA / PA Images Godwin tackles Wesley Fofana during his Wallabies debut. SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

2015 saw Godwin’s form dip as he spent much of the season in the Force’s 13 shirt, rather than his preferred 12, and he had to wait until November 2016 – after he had agreed a move to the Brumbies – to make his Wallabies debut at inside centre against France.

That remains Godwin’s only Test cap and – after two seasons with the Brumbies and with the likes of Kurtley Beale, Samu Kerevi and Reece Hodge being favoured by Chieka in recent times – he now finds himself living in Galway.

Godwin will be working under an Aussie boss in Andy Friend, but it was ex-head coach Kieran Keane who convinced him to move to Ireland.

“I got a call from KK one day saying he was interested in me coming up,” explains Godwin. “He said it rains a bit out here but I’ve put that behind me! I liked the way KK wanted to play and I heard Galway was a great town with great people.

“I had played eight seasons of Super Rugby so, for me, it’s a good change-up to experience Northern Hemisphere rugby. I think it’s becoming very strong and the Pro14 is a very strong league. I really wanted to come here and challenge myself.

“It’s going to be a learning experience, I’ve never played Northern Hemisphere rugby before. It’s a different game, so I’m trying to soak it all in and learn new tools and skills and become more of a complete player.”

Friend is a former Brumbies head coach but left the Canberra franchise five years before Godwin signed for them. He and Godwin have struck up a good working relationship so far.

“To be honest, I had only met Andy once or twice at a few awards nights back in Australia but this is the first time I’ve properly worked with him,” says Godwin.

Godwin Godwin scores against the Waratahs in his final game for the Brumbies.

“But so far, so good. We’ve got a backgammon challenge coming up so I’ll let you know how that goes!”

Godwin finished the 2018 Super Rugby campaign with the Brumbies in style, scoring a superb solo try against the Waratahs in his final game, before pitching up at Connacht for his shortened pre-season.

“I really enjoyed playing for the Brumbies and the way they played helped my game,” says Godwin. “There are similar attributes here in the way that Connacht want to play the game, so I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it.

“It’s funny enough, I got dropped for a couple of weeks after the announcement but I worked my way back into the team. I tried to finish off on a high in Australian rugby and who knows – that window might still be open one day.

“Between me and you, I only had a two-week pre-season so I’m pretty happy about that! Usually, back in Australia the Brumbies would be training from November all the way through to January and that’s in 40-degree heat. So I will not miss pre-season in Australia.”

After impressing in Connacht’s opening two friendlies against Brive and Wasps, Godwin is set to be involved against Bristol tomorrow, and it will be fascinating to see how big an impact Godwin can make for the province when the Pro14 kicks-off, particularly in linking up with Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell in midfield.

Though Godwin burst onto the scene as an out-half in his younger years, he has never started a professional game in the 10 jersey and sees himself primarily as an inside centre.

“I definitely love 12. I would love to be a through-and-through, complete 12 but I’m open to playing anywhere. I’m happy to play 12 or 13, happy even to play 10 or on the wing if needed. But 12 is my favourite position.”

Kyle Godwin tackled by Charlie Matthers and Ambrose Curtis James Crombie / INPHO Godwin's favourite position is 12. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Godwin has enjoyed getting to know Galway so far and says the Connacht supporters and the wider community have been extremely welcoming as he gets to grips with life in Ireland.

Connacht’s match MC, James ‘Sloppy’ Heaslip, has been helping him to look for a house, while Godwin jokes that he is even picking up some Irish lingo as he goes.

“I’ve heard of ‘gaffs,’” says Godwin. “My gaff is a work in progress so if you have any recommendations let me know!”

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