GARETH DELVE - THE FIRST WELSHMAN IN SUPER RUGBY
A Welshman far from home is the poster boy of the Melbourne Rebels. It was expected to be an Englishman, complete with poster girlfriend on his arm.
The decision to use the image of Gareth Delve, the Wales No 8, rather than Danny Cipriani, the discarded England first-five, in the new Super 15 franchise’s marketing push is less to do with protecting Cipriani from more individual exposure and more to do with the team ethic and leadership qualities of Delve, who has made a huge impression in his short time in the Australian city and appointed Rebels vice-captain.
Delve, 28, first visited Australia as a travel catharsis to get over the heartache of missing the 2003 World Cup through injury and his career has been a frustrating litany of knee and shoulder operations taking its toll on this explosive, powerful athlete who landed at Bath as a teenage prodigy 10 years ago.
“Australia showed me there is a big world out there outside rugby. Also my injuries have taught me to seize opportunities when they come along and the challenge of moving and playing on the other side of the world was too big to turn down,” said Delve.
It has not got down too well in Wales where Delve, who has won just 11 caps since his Test debut five years ago, was in the international back-row shake up, if never properly established.
“Test selection is not in my control, but joining the Rebels is about becoming the best I can be and I would hope to be in contention for the World Cup.”
The easy option would have been to take up an offer to join his hometown club Cardiff, but surrounded by friends and family that would have been too comfortable. Contract negotiations at Gloucester where he was captain did not go well and with his former Bath coach John Connolly recruiting for Melbourne, Delve opted to be part of a rugby ‘rebelution’ joining his former Gloucester team-mate Greg Somerville, the All Blacks prop and also hooking up again with his former Bath forwards coach Mark Bakewell and Michael Lipman, the ex-Bath flanker.
“It is exciting to be part of building something brand new and creating a rugby legacy in a sports mad city. I have always wanted to see if I could mix it in Super rugby and it is great being the first Welshman to play in the competition.”
Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, prefers his players closer to home and to build World Cup units, shapes and structures he needs his men in the Six Nations Championship.
“I am a proud Welshman and there is no greater feeling that running out for my country at the Millennium Stadium and I want much more of it.”
But the No 8 is pitting himself against the very best in the world in taking on the likes of Springbok Pierre Spies in Bulls colours and All Black Kieran Read when the Rebels come up against the Crusaders. Take those scalps and it should not matter if the Welshman plays his rugby in Melbourne or on Mars, you put him in your World Cup squad. If Gatland does not get up early to watch the Super 15, he can expect tapes to land on his doormat postmark Melbourne.
“Gareth is one of our leaders and it would be great to help him get to the World Cup with Wales,” said Rebels head coach Rod Macqueen.
The distinctive Delve, 6ft 3, 18 stone and with Hong Kong ancestry, was in a battle before he had even taken to the pitch with the Rebels, intervening on a Melbourne street when he floored a man he suspected of assaulting a woman.
Delve has settled in Port Melbourne with his girlfriend Helen; made a road trip to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for Christmas and is keen on taking up surfing.
Delve has certainly bought into Melbourne’s five-star pledge that spells out Rebel – Respect, Excellence, Balance, Ethos and Leadership. With two brothers having served in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq he knows all about perspective too.
He loves Australia, but wants to be in New Zealand come September in a red jersey. You can take the Welshman out of Wales...
The Rebels play their first Super 15 fixture on Friday night at AAMI Stadium, Melbourne against the Waratahs.
This article first appeared in the Super Rugby preview edition of Rugby News