FROM Limavady to Ruatoria via Ballymena, Bangkok, Melbourne, Sydney, Christchurch and Gisborne . . . . it has been a case of “have boots, will travel” for Ngati Porou East Coast’s new signing John Semple.
Semple arrives in Gisborne on Monday after playing for New Brighton in the plate final of the Canterbury senior division one club competition on Saturday.
He is excited about wearing the Sky Blues jersey in the 2012 Heartland Championship which starts on August 25 (the Coast are hosting West Coast at Ruatoria).
“I had always planned to come and play rugby overseas,” the 24-year-old first five-eighth said this week.
“It was just a case of doing my studies and getting my pharmacy qualifications, then making the jump.
“I’ve played with several Kiwis, including two from Gisborne — Kahu Tamatea and Mario Counsell — when they were in Limavady, and they encouraged me to have a go in this part of the world.
“The style of rugby in New Zealand is always something that I have watched and admired, and getting the chance to live my dream is special. So far I’ve loved every minute and I look forward to every training session and game.”
Semple, who prefers No.10 but can play fullback or wing, came to Gisborne two years ago to visit former Limavady halfback and now Gisborne Herald reporter Andy Chapman.
“It was more of a flying visit. It was in the winter so the weather wasn’t the best, but from what I hear the summers in Gisborne are great, and after speaking to Coast coach Ngarimu Simpkins I’m looking forward to playing for East Coast.”
While in New Zealand on his previous visit, Semple travelled through the North and South islands.
“Christchurch reminded me of Belfast. The city really caught my eye and was a major factor in my decision to come to Brighton, which is by the beach, and I have been well looked after by the New Brighton club.”
Semple was in Ireland when the Christchurch earthquake struck but it did not put him off going to the city.
“My parents were concerned but I assured them it would be OK.
“I was that keen to play rugby in New Zealand. Despite the CBD being gone, it’s going to be a fantastic city in the next 10 years.”
Semple who also played for former Ireland and British Lions lock Willie John McBride’s club Ballymena in the All Ireland League, was wanted by several clubs in Christchurch.
“But New Brighton wanted me most so I signed for them, and haven’t regretted one moment.”
The Christchurch club competition was “very strong” including Super 15 and ITM national championship players.
“We sneaked into the top six and the other week I was playing against Tyler Bleyendaal (Crusaders first five). Playing against someone of that calibre can only make me a better footballer.”
Simpkins said he had received glowing reports about Semple from people he had asked to have a look at him.
“He’s a quality goalkicker and is good on defence,” said Simpkins. “I also talked to Kahu about him and he spoke highly of him.
“We’re excited about having John in the squad, especially with Kahu injured and Tojo Maaka breaking his leg at the weekend.
“Kahu is not out of the picture. Hopefully he will be right for the second round of the competition.”