Phipps and Rona to head north at season’s end
Photos: Karen Watson
The NSW Waratahs are in their final preparations for the impending 2019 Super Rugby competition. But they already know they will need at least a couple of new faces for the following season, after scrumhalf Nick Phipps and wing/centre Curtis Rona both announced moves to the UK later this year.
Both have signed on the dotted line for London Irish for two years, a side currently in England’s 2nd tier but looking favourites for promotion back to the Gallagher Premiership for the start of the 2019-20 season, which will get underway in September.
“It was a really tough decision to make the move away from New South Wales,” said Phipps. “I’ve loved my time in the sky blue jersey and I’ve got so much pride for the teams I’ve been lucky enough to represent, from schoolboys to club as well as for the State and the Wallabies.
“I’ll take some amazing memories with me but I felt that the time was right for my family and I to make the move overseas to try a different playing style and immerse ourselves into a different culture.
“I wouldn’t be in this position without the people that I’ve met and that have helped me along the way,” he continued. “All the volunteers, the coaches, the administrators, they have all supported me and I couldn’t be more thankful. It’s a really big year ahead with the NSW Waratahs and the Wallabies though, so I’m solely focused on throwing everything I’ve got into this Super Rugby season.”
Having only made the switch to union from league in 2016, Rona’s progress from Super Rugby to test footy has been impressive to watch. And whilst he’s clearly excited about the adventure that lies ahead, he was also keen to point out that it’s business as usual for the next few months as the Waratahs go in search of a Super Rugby title.
“I have made many friendships through this awesome game and gained a lot of experience working with some of the best coaches and playing with the best in Australia,” he said.
“I feel I am a better player from when I first started, I have learnt a lot but I am at a stage of my career where I have been offered the opportunity to take my young family to a new environment. I would like to thank everyone in the NSW Rugby community for their support during my time here.
“My focus at the moment is to further improve my game and help our team achieve success in Super Rugby this year. I am excited about the season ahead because I know what we are capable of. I cannot wait for our first competition game and see a full house at Brookvale Oval.”
Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson will be sad to see both players depart at season’s end. But he paid glowing tribute to their talent and leadership skills respectively.
“Nick has been a loyal servant of the game and he has made an immense contribution to rugby in the State,” he said. “He is a leader in our environment and someone who has tremendous pride in representing NSW.
“Curtis is a player who is also eager to learn and he has grown tremendously. He offers a team versatility, and will continue to learn more as his career progresses. Both players go with our best wishes as they embark on the next chapter of their careers and experience for their families.”
On the other side of the world, Director of Rugby at London Irish, former Ireland head coach Declan Kidney, was understandably pleased to announce the double recruitment on the Exiles’ website.
“Our focus is on winning the Championship and we’re not taking anything for granted, but we also have to plan our recruitment and are delighted that Nick wants to join us,” he said.
“He has plenty of experience, both in terms of playing as well as leadership, and both of these will be important as we build for the future.
“Curtis has not been playing rugby union for a long time but has already shown that he has the talent to be a very good player,” he added. “He has power, pace and plenty of ability with ball in hand, and will complement the other players we have in the squad here at London Irish.”
Ready to welcome Phipps and Rona at Irish when they do head north is an already strong contingent of Australians. Former Waratahs assistant coach Les Kiss is the head coach under Kidney, and he is currently in charge of a playing roster that includes former Tahs Brendan McKibbin and Dave Porecki, ex-Queensland Reds and Wallabies Saia Fainga’a and Jake Schatz, former Rebels no.9 Ben Meehan, and naturalised Italian international Luke McLean.