I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

TOULON

Warwick in Munster colours versus Toulon in 2011. (c) Liam Coughlan.

It’s an oft-repeated mantra in rugby that talent alone won’t get you anywhere. Having had “everything at my feet at one point”, Paul Warwick was perhaps heading towards being living proof of that as he struggled to make an impact at the Queensland Reds a decade ago.

However, the chance of a move to Connacht in 2004 meant a working environment  which brought out the best in the Australian’s natural ability. A schoolboy, U21 and 7s international after converting from league at the age of 16, he admits he “didn’t make the most of my opportunities” at home. Removed from his comfort zone, Warwick has thrived in professional rugby since.

Three impressive seasons in the west of Ireland resulted in what looked like a dream move to Munster in 2007. While the following four years in Limerick involved a Heineken Cup medal and two Celtic League successes, it didn’t go completely to plan for a man who prefers to control his team’s attacking play from outhalf. With Ronan O’Gara the undisputed number one in that position there was definite frustration for Warwick:

“At Munster, I was in Ronan’s shadow and had to play at fullback, so the challenge for me was to get back to running things at outhalf.”

When Stade Francais came calling in 2011 it was time to move again, lured by the prospect of securing the outhalf position at the Parisian club. With cultural and language complications to consider, it wasn’t the easiest decision for Warwick and his family, but they have found it a rewarding experience:

“I’ve really enjoyed the different experience, for myself and the family. I mean we would have regretted it if we hadn’t taken the chance. Maybe we didn’t give it our best shot with the language side of things, but to say you’ve lived and played in Paris is pretty great.”

On the pitch, the change from Pro 12 to Top 14 took adjustment, with the week-to-week demands ramped up in France:

“The Top 14 has a lot more competitive teams. In the Pro 12, there are some games against the likes of the Dragons which maybe aren’t as demanding. The pride involved in home games makes it tough in France. Even when you go to a team like Agen, who were relegated this season, it’s a serious challenge with that pride on the line.”

Luke McAlister

Warwick at fullback for Stade versus Toulouse in the Top 14. (c) Pierre Selim.

So has the move away from Ireland given Warwick the on-pitch footballing control that he desired?

Last season, under Michael Chieka, he faced stiff competition from Felipe Contepomi for the 10 shirt and was moved to fullback in order that both players could be accommodated. This season, under new management fronted by Christophe Laussucq, the emergence of 21-year-old Jules Plisson has limited Warwick’s game time at outhalf. Overall, more frustration:

“I didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve in Paris personally. This season’s been ups and downs really, for me and for the team. Overall, we’re happy with the Amlin, but disappointed with the Top 14. We didn’t achieve the goals we set out at the start of the season.”

Those goals included finishing in the top six of the French championship. 19 points adrift, Stade Francais ended up in 10th. Just two wins away from home was the main reason.

A switch to Aviva Premiership side Worcester Warriors is the next move for 32-year-old Warwick. Worcester may have finished 11th in the Premiership this season, but with Dean Ryan set to take over at the club, Warwick is feeling positive:

‘They haven’t had the best of seasons, but they’re a developing team. With Dean Ryan coming in that’s a big plus, he’s got proven success. I think all the ingredients are there. I’m coming into a club where I don’t really know a whole lot of guys, so it’s just refreshing to be able to start again.”

Another chance to start from scratch, another opportunity to take control at outhalf. Before that, there’s one final task with Stade Francais: the small matter of a European final against heavyweights Leinster.

Paul Warwick in full flight

Warwick in full flight versus the Ospreys during his time with Munster. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

To be in a final at all came as a surprise to Warwick and his teammates. The Australian credits their European run to a recent change in attitude within the squad:

“It’s been unexpected. Our away form has been abysmal to say the least. But we went to Bath and Perpignan and came away with wins. The team is enjoying the footy we’re playing at the moment. There’s obviously lots of changes going on here, with the coaching team and everything, but we’re enjoying our footy. We’ll give it a real go.”

From Warwick’s point of view, it’s hard to pick out one area in which to target Leinster on Friday night. The focus instead will be on Stade’s own performance:

“Leinster have been the best team in Europe for a number of years, they really don’t have too many weaknesses. For us, the main thing is getting over the gain-line on first phase, putting them under pressure and asking questions of their defence. We have to match them at set-piece and then go from there. If we can do that, who knows?”

Warwick had settle for a place on the bench against Bath and Perpignan, and it looks likely that Plisson will be the man entrusted with the outhalf slot on Friday night. If things don’t go their way, Stade will call on Warwick’s flair and creativity. For himself and Stade, there is no fear in facing Leinster:

“Everyone wrote us off for the Bath and Perpignan matches and we went out and got the wins. We’re at a point where our attitude is that we’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s see what happens.”

——————–

Photos: Liam Coughlan, Pierre Selim, Ivan O’Riordan.

6 responses to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

  1. quality player & genuine guy, coached Thomond RFC while I played with them & the following year also I think. Hope he does well..

  2. PW actually signed for London Irish 3? seasons ago when Munster were slow offering a new contract. Changed his mind about moving to London when Munster came up with an offer & Irish were supposedly paid compensation for tearing up the contract. With hindsight and taking into account the Irish open playing style, a move to Sunbury might have been a better option.

  3. Yeah in hindsight might have been a good move rugby-wise, but obviously the contract at Munster was better for him at the time. I’m glad he stayed, thought he was excellent for Munster even if it wasn’t in his preferred position. Seemed to be a very popular guy within the squad too.

    • brendan darby

      Note on London Irish Supportners Message Board today advises that following Conor Gaston`s departure from the Club, he has signed for French Pro D2 club Aurillac.

      Brendan Darby

      ======================================== Message Received: May 15 2013, 12:16 PM

  4. The overriding issue highlighted in his career is the negative impact overall his sevens caps has on on his 15’s career. This had a serious impact on his selection opportunities with both Irish provinces, with McHugh and then Keatley being frequently preferred at Connacht and Warwick played out of position at Centre or FB and then O’Gara regardless of form being preferred at 10 with a view to the Irish team.

    He’s a seriously talented player, and but for those Australian Sevens caps making him NIQ I’m pretty sure he would have been capped for Ireland several times over. Bear in mind that he came to Conancht as a 23 year old, so he would have been IQ at 26. Also at both provinces he played at; his NIQ status meant he often was denied the opportunity to fully flourish.

    Sorta wonder how just good a ten he could have been if he had been IQ and given the opportunities that that would have allowed…

    • Speaking utter sense here, cheers Sea point! The 7s caps were obviously a massive honour, but maybe caused some regret in his career? Warwick would have been hyped up far more if he had been IQ, as you say.

      Interesting parallel in France in the build-up to PSA’s squad announcement yesterday. The Montpellier No.8 Alex Tulou was seen as a probable inclusion after three years living in France and excellent form. Samoa-born but no caps there. But he had played for the NZ 7s team when he was younger. Literally a few minutes off the bench as far as I can make out. Probably regrets it now.

      Gotta be careful with those 7s caps!

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