Top 14 – Ihaia West Back At La Rochelle: “I Feel Like I Never Left”

Top 14 – Ihaia West Back At La Rochelle: “I Feel Like I Never Left”

After just one season in Toulon, Ihaia West has returned to La Rochelle to play this season 2023/2024. With an unmistakable sense of humor, the 31-year-old New Zealand fly-half has anchored his transfer, but also his placement within the Caravelle Club.

How is your return to La Rochelle going?

Really amazing. Honestly, I feel like I never left. Although I had a good year in Toulon, I am very happy to be back here in a Stade Rochelais shirt.

Can you tell us behind the scenes of your transition?

I signed in Toulon for three years, but it was difficult for me to leave La Rochelle in the summer of 2022 for a European title. Then I played with the British Barbarians last November and Ronan (O’Gara) was our coach. I talked to him about the possibility of returning, and told him I was there.

Did you take the first step?

When I was talking about it with some guys like Will (Skelton), I think he was already aware of my desires. You could say I brought it up first.

What time of the season was your return announced?

In the fall, Dan Biggar arrived at RCT, so he was the flyhalf. So my agent contacted Toulon to agree an early departure despite having two seasons of contract remaining. Before var leaders, like coaches.

Although you would like to return to La Rochelle, isn’t it hard to accept that the club is not keeping you?

It was a little strange to actually live. The leaders didn’t hold me back, which made things easier and probably wasn’t so bad. But I still want to say I was happy there, that’s not the problem. My son was born there too, so I have a little Toulonie in the family now! (laughs) It’s a nice city, with a lot of good guys in the band. I got along with everyone.

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What do you remember from this season you played in Marfa?

It was a mixed exercise. We won the Challenge Cup, which is very good, but we didn’t manage to qualify for the top six. We had the group to watch the final stages but missed a game or two. In any case, I have no regrets that I defended the colors of Toulon.

West’s Toulon adventure only lasted one season.
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Do you feel that your situation has not changed in La Rochelle?

Yes, and that was much better! Even Jules Favre told me: “You didn’t really leave.”. I find it funny and touching. I came back with the desire to win it all and keep going in yellow and black.

There is still a second star added during your absence…

The club is growing so fast…it’s crazy. The final in Dublin against Leinster showed what Stade Rochelais had become. Ten minutes later, I wanted to turn off my TV but winning this meeting was too strong.

With competition from Antoine Hastoy and Hugo Rios, do you realize it won’t be easy to wear No. 10 next season?

It is very good for a club to have three fly halves like this. You will raise us. Antoine is a world class player and Hugo is 19 but looks like he’s been playing in the top 14 for ten years.

Did Ronan O’Gara mention the possibility of you moving to full-back or full-back?

No, I think it’s still very early. But he knows I can play in these positions. If I’m a regular in the middle, I’ll give it my all, and same in the back.

I was criticized after losing the final two in 2021, do you still think about those difficult times?

I will never forget these two finals. My failures made me grow exponentially. It’s the law of sport, sometimes you miss, sometimes you’re the hero… Before some matches I look back two years to motivate myself. And then, let’s say I still prefer to remember the final in Marseille in 2022. (Laughs)

In the absence of the internationals, do you get the impression that you are part of the squad to start the season?

maybe yes. I am experienced so I will try to supervise the young talent in the team as much as possible for the first three or four days. On the one hand, this is not a good thing for me, it reminds me of my age … (laughs).

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