Jimmy Cowan's been busy reacquainting himself with the stark realities of New Zealand domestic rugby.
The former All Blacks, Highlanders and Southland halfback's only been with his new Tasman Makos' team-mates for the past couple of weeks but has already immersed himself in his new environment. Now he can't wait for some real national provincial championship action.
Considering the circumstances, he probably couldn't ask for a tougher ITM Cup baptism with his new province than against Hawke's Bay in Blenheim on Sunday. Tasman beat Hawke's Bay 26-25 in last season's nail-biting championship final at Trafalgar Park, so Sunday's rematch is likely to have some extra sting.
At 32 and after achieving 100 games for both the Highlanders and Stags and 51 tests for the All Blacks, Cowan's been around the rugby block. However, his last two seasons have been mixed affairs.
"I went over to [English club] Gloucester two years ago and the first year was disrupted through injury. I had a seven-month layoff through an ACL [knee] reconstruction so I had a fair bit of time off there," Cowan said.
"I got back playing this season and I'll be the first to admit I was a bit slow and not to where I should have been. This year I've sort of grown into my game again and I'm back with New Zealand rugby and trying to recreate myself there."
Signing with the Makos under his former Highlanders coach Kieran Keane offers him an ideal opportunity to reignite his provincial career.
"I'm really looking forward to it. I feel refreshed, it's a young man's game this New Zealand rugby, but I feel as though I've still got a lot to offer. I'm re-energised and looking forward to it.
"You're only as old as you feel and that's the beauty of it, I've got these young [Tasman] guys keeping me pretty honest at the moment. Right throughout my rugby career, I've always enjoyed a challenge and this certainly is a challenge, but it's one that I'm looking forward to."
He couldn't be happier in Nelson at the moment and is loving the culture alongside his new team-mates. Now he's just looking forward to some quality game time.
"I just want to push my case for selection and grow the team and see where we end up.
"To be fair, I'm looking forward to the season kicking off because it's been a bit of a wait, so I want to get on the pitch and do my talking there.
"You can do all the training you like away from the rugby field, but no matter how fit you are, you've got to be playing to get that match fitness, so it's just time in the saddle. I need some matches and I'll grow into it."
Knowing Keane's methods has helped.
"I've been quite fortunate because I've played under KK at the Highlanders, so he runs a similar sort of game plan up here. I'm familiar with it so it won't take long, I know the bulk of it now."
He's had two preseason outings with Tasman, scoring a try in the win over Otago ahead of last Thursday's draw with Manawatu which, said Cowan, proved to be a frustrating exercise.
"It was very frustrating because the game we intended to play, the weather and elements didn't allow us to do that. You've got to give a lot of credit to Manawatu ... they disrupted a lot of our ball and the referee let them get away with a fair bit.
"So we've picked up on a few things we can get better at. This week it's all about our game and getting our structures right and looking forward to Hawke's Bay."
They'll be playing an experienced and dangerous Hawke's Bay team plenty of due respect.
"They'll be tough no doubt. I think we've counted that they've got 16 Super players, which is a hell of a lot, and they play an interesting game. They've got some big boys and the likes of Robbie Fruean and Andrew Horrell in midfield, then you've got the young guys in Ihaia West and Alby Mathewson in the halves, so they'll be very sharp.
"A lot of the boys have played against them before and know what they're about, so we know it's going to be a stiff challenge. But it's one we're looking forward to."
- The Nelson Mail
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