WHEN SAM PIM flew out to Australia earlier this year, the last thing he expected to have to do was act as a translator.
And yet, there he was two weeks ago on the training ground with University of Queensland having to translate from English… to English.
You see, Shannon RFC and Irish Universities prop Tony Cusack had just arrived to join ‘UQ’ in Queensland’s Premier Rugby competition and the locals had a bit of trouble deciphering exactly what he was saying.
“Tony introduced himself at training in a thick Limerick accent and there were just perplexed faces looking back at him,” recalls Pim with a laugh. “I had to do a bit of translating.”
Pim was the perfect man to make the introductions, given that he is a settled part of the set-up, having arrived in February. The 21-year-old is on Erasmus from Trinity College and the first thing he looked for when assessing his options for study abroad was rugby.
He secured a place at the nearby Queensland University of Technology and a Trinity connection linked him with UQ as soon as he landed.
Pim is the son of former Leinster back row Chris, who captained the province in their first-ever Heineken Cup game in 1995, a side that included Conor O’Shea, Alain Rolland, Niall Woods, Shane Byrne, Malcolm O’Kelly, Victor Costello, Kurt McQuilkin and Paul Wallace.
The Trinity man will stay on with UQ into August, beyond the end of his Erasmus stint, with the club currently sitting top of the Queensland Premier Rugby ladder after nine wins from nine games. With two games streamed live each week on Youtube and highlights uploaded from all fixtures, Premier Rugby is well followed in Queensland.
As well as Pim and Cusack, Terenure prop Tiernan Creagh is a UQ man for the season, meaning a nice little pocket of Irish influence.
“UQ flew them out here,” explains Pim. “They do look for players for the season. I know Tiernan had a highlight reel and UQ offered to fly him out here.”
Pim was part of Trinity’s excellent start to the Ulster Bank League Division 1A season, featuring in the back row for Tony Smeeth’s side as they burst out of the blocks with a run of form that unfortunately faded later in the season.
Surgery on the meniscus in his knee in December limited his involvement before leaving for Australia though, and he initially found it tough on his comeback from injury with UQ.
“UQ have eight men’s teams and they all play on the same day, and the last game is the Premier game,” says Pim.
“So the first game I played was for the seconds and then I had to play 20 minutes with the firsts, so I was absolutely blowing out my hole at the end of it. That was straight after four months of doing nothing, so it was pretty intense.”
Injuries in the second row and the presence of flankers Adam Korczyk, who has 13 Super Rugby caps for the Reds under his belt, and the “next level” Jack Cornelsen, who has played for Australia 7s, mean Pim has been playing lock in recent weeks.
“I’m quite happy playing in the second row but I’d like to play in the back row once I get back to Trinity,” he says. “I don’t want to be giving Tony Smeeth any ideas!”
There are more Irishmen involved in the Premier Rugby comp and Pim faced the on-loan Munster academy prop JP Phelan – who Pim previously played with for the Leinster U20s – when UQ beat Bond University two weekends ago.
Phelan and fellow Munster academy man Stephen Fitzgerald had only just arrived from Ireland to spend the summer getting valuable game time with Bond, although the former Ireland U20 wing didn’t play against UQ.
“JP was at tighthead and played about 60 minutes,” says Pim. “Stephen Fitz didn’t play, he was getting a bit of stick at the after-match. They were giving JP all the plaudits for getting in and getting playing, they were saying the backs need a few extra days!”
Though hard to directly compare, Pim feels the standard of rugby in Queensland is slightly higher than the UBL, and one thing in particular stood out from the moment he arrived at UQ.
“The skills are ridiculous here,” he says. “That’s what I noticed first thing off the bat, ‘Wow, everyone can catch-pass, a bit of footwork.’
“Whereas at home there are one or two backs and maybe one or two forwards who are ball handlers and the rest of us just stick it up the jumper, everyone here can throw a miss pass and things like that.
“My skills have definitely improved since I’ve come out. The type of training is so different. UQ have four or five coaches and you split into different groups and work through different stations, non-stop working on different skills.
“Even all the fitness is done with a ball in your hands. If you’re running lengths of the pitch, between the two 10-metre lines you pick up the ball and do hands, put the ball down, run, then back to the ball. You’re always working your skills under fatigue.”
The free-flowing style of play in Australia suits the athletic Pim perfectly, and though his handling and decision-making skills are improving rapidly with UQ, he was always going to be in a good place in that regard, given who his father is.
Chris Pim’s career with Leinster ended in 1997 and Sam was only born in 1995, so there aren’t memories of watching his father play, but their house was a rugby-mad one growing up.
“Dad coached me from when I was around 5 until I was 12 and he’s been at pretty much every game I’ve ever played. It’s been driving him mad when the games aren’t on YouTube here!
“It’s pretty cool having a Dad who has captained Leinster. He never forced us to go training, his catchphrase when we were younger was ‘training is optional,’ but I would always have been mad to go.”
His younger brother, Reuben, is currently part of the Leinster U19s set-up, while youngest brother Noah helped Kilkenny College to an historic win in the Leinster Schools Junior Cup this year. Chris’ back row DNA appears to be strong, with his three sons playing there too.
The Pim boys started playing in Kilkenny RFC, with Sam coming through Kilkenny College to play for the Leinster U20s.
That talented team included the likes of Joey Carbery, Andrew Porter, Nick Timoney, Conor Oliver and Tim Schmidt, and being involved was important for Pim in helping him to realise that he was good enough to play alongside those quality individuals.
He has great memories of big wins over the Exiles, Leicester and others, although he also recalls a lesson learned when coming off the bench against Munster.
“We were going really well so they chucked me in and I proceeded to get myself a yellow card. It was the first one I ever got, I came in the side, I was a bit over eager. I was wearing bright orange boots and with bright orange hair, so it probably didn’t help my case!
“That was kind of the end of it, I didn’t play again after that yellow. I was on the bench against Ulster but didn’t get on.”
Nonetheless, he advanced into an excellent Trinity U20s side and enjoyed being part of a winning team, before graduating into Smeeth’s senior side and establishing himself in the back row.Source: queenslandreds/YouTube
He enjoys the camaraderie in Trinity, where he is in the gym, in lectures and on the training pitch with his team-mates in what feels like “a mini pro set-up.”
Pim is excited to get back to Trinity after his stint in Australia, particularly given the ambition in their young squad. Before that, the hope is that UQ can secure the Premier title in the final at Ballymore on 20 August.
And though he is focused on completing his degree, Pim also has some hopes of playing at a higher level in Ireland.
“I’d love to be involved in some sort of next-level set-up after playing with Trinity. If it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come but it would be great to do it for a year even and see how it is. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’ll find a club and play until I can’t. That’s the plan.”
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