Johan Goosen joined French club Racing Métro to develop his game and secure his financial future, writes GAVIN MORTIMER.
Johan Goosen would be forgiven for wondering if he’s joined the most talked-about club in Europe. The former Cheetahs flyhalf arrived at Racing Métro in August and since then the stylish Parisian outfit has rarely been off the back pages of the newspapers – on both sides of the English Channel.
First there was the news that Jonathan Sexton will be returning to Leinster at the end of the season, as the Irish flyhalf and his family are missing their homeland too much. Then in October a French paper alleged that Racing’s trio of British & Irish Lions – Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips and Dan Lydiate – were all surplus to requirements because of poor performances. The story sent the Welsh media into a frenzy but in the end only Lydiate looks to be on his way home.
Throw in the rumours linking Racing with a move for Dan Carter next year, plus the development of their swanky new 32 000-seater stadium, and there can be little doubt that Goosen has joined a club never far from the gossip columns of French rugby. And he’s loving every minute of it.
‘The people have been great,’ he tells SA Rugby magazine the morning after he was named in the Springbok squad for their European tour. ‘Everyone at the club is really friendly and the players have been helping me with the language.’
It’s a bonus that there are a sprinkling of veteran Saffas in the Racing squad – Francois van der Merwe, Juandré Kruger and Antonie Claassen to name but three – who have taken the 22-year-old under their wing.
‘We hang out quite a bit,’ says Goosen, a laid-back character with a smile never far from the surface. ‘We’ve had some braais and been to the movies a few times. It’s good to have them here with me.’
The rugby has been quite a challenge, but then Goosen arrived in the country with his eyes open to the French way of doing things.
‘The rugby is a bit slower than back home,’ he says. ‘But the rucks and mauls, the collisions, they’re bigger and harder. For a 10, there is more tactical kicking, which isn’t really my game, but it’s up to me to adapt, and in Jonny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara [the former Ireland flyhalf who is Racing’s kicking coach] I have two people who can teach me a lot.’
'For a 10, there is more tactical kicking, which isn’t really my game, but it’s up to me to adapt'
Learning is just one reason Goosen accepted Racing’s offer of a three-year contract back in May. He wants to be as complete a player as possible and European rugby presents him with the opportunity to expand his skills. And there’s also the money.
‘Our sporting career is 10 years, 15 if you’re very lucky,' he says with refreshing honesty. ‘I’ve had six operations already and based on those injuries, I made a decision to come to France. I’ll have a life after rugby – I have a farm in Burgersdorp – and rugby will help provide money for that.’
There will always be a few knockers, fans with the misguided belief that loyalty is paramount for a professional sportsman. Goosen has this message for them: ‘Sport is a business, it’s your livelihood. You have to look after yourself as best you can.’
All the same, accepting Racing’s offer wasn’t a decision Goosen took lightly. He knew that if he left South Africa it might be many years before he’d have another chance to wear the green and gold jersey. Despite many long conversations with his dad, his mind was ultimately made up on 14 June.
‘I came on [as a sub] for the Springboks against Wales in Durban,’ explains Goosen. ‘I’d only been on the field for about 30 seconds before I injured my knee. That was it. I just thought “hell, let’s move to France and clear my head of all these injury worries”.’
Goosen is delighted to have wound up at Racing, the French club he’s always supported. Why?
‘I’ve always been a fan of Frans Steyn. He played for Racing so I wanted to do the same!’
He’s had to fight for his place in the starting XV since arriving in France, starting just four of Racing’s opening nine games as the coaches opted for Sexton instead. All the same, Goosen has made the most of his limited opportunities, announcing himself in his debut against Montpellier with a booming 55m drop goal, and a few weeks later scoring a superb try in the Paris derby against Stade Français.
It was obviously enough to impress Heyneke Meyer and earn Goosen a recall to the Springbok squad two years after he won his first cap against Australia. Before that match Meyer warned supporters not to heap too much pressure on Goosen’s young shoulders, saying: ‘You have to be realistic. You can’t expect a 20-year-old guy to come in and score five tries and win the game.’
But expectations and injuries have unquestionably had an adverse effect on Goosen. Which is another reason he’s enjoying his new life overseas. In Paris there’s less pressure and more peace. He can walk where he wants, visit where he wants and Parisians have no idea who he is. It’s nice for once not to be the name on everyone’s lips.
– This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine