Jimmy Goppert cool about staying afloat

Surfing the North Sea keeps Newcastle kicker chilled as he sets about helping his club avoid relegation today, he tells Simon Turnbull

Jimmy Gopperth breezes into one of the West Stand hospitality boxes overlooking the green sward of Kingston Park with a cheery "How you doin'?" He is wearing his Newcastle Falcons No 10 training top and a pair of bright-blue beach shorts.

Brian Wilson and the rest of the Beach Boys had been on television the night before, riding waves on some sun-kissed Californian stretch of sand, singing "Surfin' USA". For the outside-half who will be attempting to keep Newcastle's heads above water in their Aviva Premiership relegation decider against Wasps at Adams Park this afternoon, it is more a case of Surfin' Tyne and Wear.

"I was out with my board just last night," Gopperth says. "I like to go up around Blyth, Seaton Sluice. With all the stuff coming out of the rivers, I just close my mouth – otherwise I'd end up in hospital."

Across in the corner of the hospitality box there is a glass cabinet displaying the Tetley's Bitter Cup and one of the Premiership Golden Boot trophies won by Jonny Wilkinson. In the three seasons Gopperth has spent fighting against the relegation tide as Wilkinson's replacement in the No 10 shirt for the Falcons, the former Junior All Black has twice landed the top-flight prize for top points-scorer; with 80 minutes of the 2011-12 campaign remaining, the New Plymouth native stands third behind Tom Homer of London Irish and Sale's Nick Macleod on 217 points.

Like the golden boy whose dramatic drop goal won the 2003 World Cup final for England, the 28-year-old Gopperth has a Midas touch with the boot. Unlike Wilkinson – Wilkinson in his prime, certainly – he does not carry the worries of the world upon his shoulders. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Wilkinson was such a highly strung individual, consumed by a fear of failure and manacled to a slavish work ethic, that he once confessed: "My perspective on life at the time of the 2003 Rugby World Cup robbed me of my ability to enjoy the moment." Gopperth, patently, enjoys the moment – every moment – to the full.

Asked if there might be an insurance clause in his contract stipulating no surfing, he shrugs his shoulders and says, chuckling: "I don't know." Clearly, there is more value in keeping such a key man in his naturally chilled state ahead of the kind of crunch match the Falcons face in High Wycombe today.

"Yeah, the surfing gets my mind away from rugby," Gopperth says. "It keeps my body nice and loose and it's good for recovery too. The sea's about nine degrees at the moment, so it's not the warmest. I surfed back home in Taranaki. You get cold there but not as cold as here."

There has been many a time this season when it seemed certain that Newcastle, despite the prolific place-kicking of their Kiwi fly-half, would end up being left out in the Premiership cold. By the first weekend in January, they had suffered 10 defeats and won just twice.

Since Gary Gold, the former London Irish and Springboks coach, arrived as director of rugby, though, to take over the reins from Alan Tait, there has been a raging against the dying of the light. With two wins and a draw in their last five matches, Newcastle have reached denouement day with a chink of hope.

Their fate is in their own hands, but they have a lot to do if they are to keep hold of it. Newcastle, who have named an unchanged XV for the final-day fixture, stand 12th and bottom, four points behind Wasps: to overtake their hosts they need either to win by 24 points or to triumph with a four-try bonus point, while simultaneously denying Wasps a losing bonus point.

The omens are not promising. Their highest winning margin in the Premiership this season is nine points. And they last scored four tries in league action back in October 2010, in a 27-16 win at Bath.

Still, with their long-term future secure thanks to the backing of local businessman Semore Kurdi, Gopperth maintains: "We're pretty relaxed. The bonus about it is that whichever league we end up playing in next season, the club is in great shape now.

"With Dean Richards coming in as director of rugby next season and Semore Kurdi backing us, this club is going places. There's a buzz of excitement going around the place at the moment.

"We're massive underdogs going down to Wasps and we can just go out and play rugby. The pressure's off us. The last thing we need to do is worry – 'Shit, we need to score four tries, win by 24 points.'

"If we go down there and just enjoy ourselves, with a smile on our faces, and do exactly what we need to do, the performance and the score will take care of themselves."

It was different on the final day of last season. Gopperth and his team-mates headed down to Bath in the box seat in the survival stakes. With a one-point advantage over Leeds, who were away to Northampton, plus a superior points difference, they could afford to lose – so long as Leeds failed to gain more than a single bonus point.

The Falcons clung on by the skin of their claws. They were thumped 42-12. Leeds gained a losing bonus point, falling to a 31-24 defeat after leading 24-3. They came within an ace of a last-minute try bonus point that would have relegated Newcastle instead.

"We started that game OK but as soon as it came over the PA system that Leeds were 24-3 up everything just hit the fan," Gopperth recalls. "We didn't know how to cope with the pressure. We were lucky Leeds fell short by a couple of inches."

Had it not been for the thickness of Tom Varndell's hand, the Falcons would have been travelling to Wycombe today needing "only" a straight win, without any extras. The Wasps winger prevented Sam Vesty from denying his side a bonus point a fortnight ago, after the Bath midfielder had indulged in some premature celebrating as he crossed the try-line at the Rec.

"It's just one of those things in rugby," Gopperth says. "You've got to laugh about it. From our point of view, there's so many things that have gone against us and that's another one to add to the collection.

"We've been through a lot of shit this season but we've got such a good group of guys that we haven't let it rattle us too much. The way Gary and his coaching team have led us these last few months has been absolutely superb. It's just a shame that we haven't got another half-season to go."

Gold – who has been assisted on Tyneside by John Wells and Mike Ford, two of Martin Johnson's lieutenants in the old England regime – was always going to be a stopgap appointment at Kingston Park. Richards arrives in mid-August to pick up the threads of his career in the wake of his three-year "Bloodgate" ban.

The former England No 8 will have the vast bulk of a Premiership squad to work with, whichever league Newcastle happen to be in, Gopperth and the majority of his colleagues having committed themselves to the club.

The Falcons could still be top-flighters even if they finish bottom today. Of the four clubs involved in the Championship play-offs, only Bristol meet the entry criteria for the Premiership.

Even if they have to bite the bullet of a season in the second tier, which they last occupied in 1997, Newcastle's chances of coming back stronger will be all the brighter with Gopperth and his old-style, almost toe-end, place-kicking style still in tow.

"My dad built me a pair of posts in the cow paddock on the family farm and I learnt to kick there," he says. "When I went down to Wellington to play for the Hurricanes I changed my style because of the wind there. I hit the ball a bit lower, sort of punching it into the wind. You get a lot more power with a low trajectory."

The idiosyncratic technique has proven devilishly effective since Gopperth moved from the Blues in Auckland to the Falcons in Newcastle in the summer of 2009.

He has racked up 666 points in three seasons in the English Premiership: Wilkinson scored 1,489 points in 12 seasons at Newcastle. If Gopperth ends up equalling that tally, it will be for the want of trying.

Wilkinson once calculated that he took 1,000 practice kicks in a typical week. As for his successor, the Newcastle beach boy confesses: "I may hit about 10 balls a week. I hit three yesterday and I was happy, so that did me.

"I don't like to practise too much. When you get something that works, you don't want to fiddle with it."

Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Higher expectations: European economies are growing but the recovery remains weak
newsThe eurozone crisis has tipped many into despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues economist Philippe Legrain
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Foster and Hedison have reportedly been dating since last summer
peopleOscar-winner said to be 'totally in love' with Alexandra Hedison
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Ian Herbert: Manchester United broken so badly they need a big personality to carry out overhaul

United broken so badly they need a big personality to carry out overhaul

The size of the rebuild needed at Old Trafford is a task way beyond Ryan Giggs, says Ian Herbert
Mark Schwarzer: Chelsea keeper aims to seize unlikely final chance

Mark Schwarzer: Chelsea keeper aims to seize unlikely final chance

The 41-year-old calmed his nerves to perform a classic 'Superman act' when he replaced Petr Cech in Madrid. One clean sheet later, he is now determined to become a club hero
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?