KIWI lock Andrew van der Heijden has revealed the anguish of breaking his arm just two days after signing for Newcastle Falcons.
The 26-year-old was 11,000 miles away at the time, helping his Auckland side to a big home win over Tasman to book their place in the semi-finals of New Zealand’s ITM Cup.
But then came the moment that threatened to ruin everything.
“One of the Tasman players just ran with his head down, and when I went to tackle him the head ended up fracturing the radius in my right arm,” said van der Heijden, having finally landed at Kingston Park last week.
“It wasn’t too flash, and it was a hard week with missing the ITM Cup semi-final and obviously having just signed my contract with Newcastle.
“It was a worrying time, and if you ask my wife she’ll tell you how grumpy I was.
“The first thing was that I’d missed out on a home semi-final with my Auckland team, but longer term I was obviously thinking about the contract with Newcastle as well. It was a pretty nervous week with a few sleepless nights wondering if they would rip up my deal or not, but I have to say that right from off the Falcons were really supportive.
“They said they still wanted me to come over and join them, and I’m really determined to pay them back for that loyalty.”
Having turned down head coach Alan Tait’s offer of a further two weeks in the Auckland sun, the 6 foot 7 lock forward encountered a winter wonderland last week when he touched down on Tyneside.
“It’s great that the club were so good about it though, and that’s why I wanted to come here a few weeks earlier – to basically repay them for the faith they showed in me after the injury,” he said.
“I wanted to get my rehab up here and get involved with the club as much as I can, as well as getting used to the cold.
“ It was certainly interesting flying into the airport seeing all the snow everywhere.
“The novelty of the snow hasn’t quite worn off yet, mainly because my wife is from Auckland and they never get any up there.”
Admitting that some familiar faces played a big part in his decision to switch hemispheres, van der Heijden said: “The lifestyle was a big part of it, and I’d heard from people I know in the game that the Kiwis go pretty well up here in Newcastle.
“The people are friendly, the area seems nice and that’s a big part of it as well as the obvious rugby reasons.
“I spoke to Alan Tait quite a few times, and also to Jimmy Gopperth and Tane Tu’ipulotu who are in the squad up here. I played a season for the Blues in the same squad as Jimmy, and then I had a year at the Chiefs with Tane.
“It’s great to know some guys who are already at the club when I’m moving this far and the other boys in the squad have been great in terms of welcoming me in.
“When I spoke to Taity he didn’t have to sell the club to me really, because I already knew it was somewhere that I would enjoy playing.
“We were looking for a change back home, and Newcastle was mentioned early on in the piece. I knew about the rugby team and I’d heard good things about the area.
“It’s a good club with a proud history, and they didn’t have to do too much in convincing me to come.”
Around a month or so away from a playing comeback as he awaits the final verdict from the medics, the Kiwi added: “I’m looking forward to getting to know the players, settling into the area, and I really want to get out there on that field.
“There’s work to be done, but it will be an enjoyable challenge.”