London Irish’s new scrum-half asset Joe Powell is blossoming into his new life at Hazelwood, citing the Exiles’ style of play as thoroughly enjoyable.
Powell was acquired by Irish in July from Super Rugby Pacific outfit Melbourne Rebels, marking a conclusion to a eight-year stay in professional rugby in Australia.
The 28-year-old joins a cast of capped Wallabies and Aussie coaches in west London, and has been acclimatising, less so to the familiar August weather, but more to the rigorous training.
Having been born, raised and going on to play in his native capital of Canberra, life in the big city of London comes naturally to Powell- perhaps with the exception of public transport.
“I’ve caught the train into central London with my partner Chloe a couple of times, it’s a pretty easy trip and is only thirty minutes or so,” Powell explains.
“Looked around, did some touristy things and it’s been great.
“I’ve enjoyed working in London as well, as much as it has been a busy time settling in, I haven’t managed to do an awful lot outside Hazelwood.
“I leave working out the underground to my partner, she’s on top of that sort of stuff!”
The decision to come across the globe to a different country was one not taken lightly by Powell and his family, particularly with it being his first permanent rugby venture outside of the Oceania region.
“I thought it was a good time to move- I had been in Australian rugby for a long time, and I felt like I reached a point where I got a bit stuck in my rugby and London Irish was a massive opportunity, and one that I wanted to take.
“It is a big move, but I moved from Canberra to Melbourne a few years ago, which was good preparation to up sticks and move to London.
“Having my partner come over with me has helped out a lot, but the boys here at Irish have made it easy for me too.
“I’m really enjoying the rugby we have been playing so far, so it’s been a pleasure.”
Perhaps a more undisclosed element about Irish’s fresh addition and his journey to the Club is his less conventional route into the game.
Having picked up international honours in gold and green, Powell reverted back to holding up a day job whilst his career in rugby was put on pause, albeit for a brief period of time.
“I came out of school not really knowing what I really wanted to do, I gave uni a try for a little bit and did a little bit of travelling.
“Playing for the Australia under-20s was an honour but I was still unsure of what I wanted to continue with, so I picked up a carpentry apprenticeship which I did for around a year-and-a-half in my hometown of Canberra.
“I did a couple of pre-seasons with ACT Brumbies, and after they had a few injuries I got the call-up to represent them, and it went from there for six seasons.”
Having become mainstay in Australian rugby, life at London Irish now could be mistaken for a ‘home away from home’ as he plays alongside Ollie Hoskins, Adam Coleman, Curtis Rona and Rob Simmons whilst receiving coaching from Brad Davis and Les Kiss.
Powell believes that having toured with lattermost trio of players mentioned with his country has cushioned his arrival in England.
“I suppose it makes it easier knowing a few of the boys before I came over here, Nick Phipps gave me a few pointers on how to get settled so it definitely smooths moving in when you’re aware of a few of the guys before arriving.
“Everywhere you go in rugby, there are a lot of parallels you can draw between teams but the boys have been so welcoming to me and a lot of the new lads.
“We’re starting to get to know each other really well, having a few barbeques with the boys and increasing our rapport with each other.”
The former Brumbie and Rebel credited the new coaching staff he operates under, divulging how training regimes mould the Exile mindset on the park- something Powell is anticipating greatly.
“The amount of coaching we receive is great and partnered with the great detail implemented within it has been encouraging, particularly skill-wise, we always have a coach to work one-on-one with which is a privilege.
“Our style of play that they want us to use has made training really enjoyable thus far, we throw the ball around plenty with a lot of attacking intent, which for someone like me at scrum-half, helps a lot of course.
“We always have the ethos of playing what is in front of us, not kicking the ball too much or overrunning it, so hopefully we can maintain our exciting brand of rugby.
“I always look forward to working with who is playing outside of you at 10, so whether it be Paddy [Jackson], Jenno [Rory Jennings] or Jacob [Atkins], it’s been great playing alongside them to work up our combinations here at Hazelwood.
“The centres are another position I look forward to playing with, Benhard van Rensburg and Curtis [Rona], who I have known for a couple of years, have both been doing great.
“It’s an incredibly talented team here at Irish, the boys have been impressing on the pitch so it’ll be nice to link up with them as a whole.”
Subsequent to his time with the Australian national team, where he attained four caps with the likes of Coleman, Simmons and Rona, Powell was picked for the Barbarians in 2019.
His selection for the team spawned from an initial discouraging piece of news into an experience as something he’ll ‘cherish’.
“I came over in 2019 to play at Twickenham against Fiji, meeting a few guys from around the world and to be in the same team as them was an unforgettable experience.
“I suppose it was a good taste of what was to come here experiencing the capital in what was a whirlwind few weeks, we then went out to Brazil for half a week too and we won- pretty crazy!
“I was disappointed to miss out on the last Wallabies World Cup squad, but it was a great way to finish off the year by travelling, it’s something I’ll cherish.”
The former Super Rugby AU champion and consequent 2020 Super Rugby Team of the Year member also has a different, more personal source of pride.
His Irish heritage, which goes back two generations and seven decades to the province of Munster on the maternal side of his family, means Powell maintains a dual Australian-Irish citizenship.
He explains: “My grandparents on my mother’s side were both born in Ireland, they moved over a long time ago, sometime in the 1950s I’m sure.
“My grandpa caught the boat over to Melbourne with my grandmother following over a few months later, and both lived in Australia until they passed a few years ago.
“It’s nice to have a bit of Irish heritage, I have been over to there to visit Dublin and my grandmother was from Cork and my grandfather hailed from Scarriff, Co. Clare.
“It’s probably something I haven’t delved much into, I’m very much Australian but having an opportunity to come over here and play rugby for this Club is awesome, having always wanted to try playing in Europe.
“I’m sure if my grandparents were still around, they would be loving if I was playing with London Irish.”
Powell is conscious that joining Irish at this juncture, with the Club on the cusp of silverware last term and then qualifying for the Heineken Champions Cup, is a particularly epoch-making time in the recent history of the outfit.
A demonstration of purposeful attitude since arriving on the scene will be sure to bed the scrum-half into the set-up further as the season progresses.
“The last few years at London Irish have gradually been getting better and better, so we hope we can go that one step further and pick something up along the way, which would be nice for the Club,” Powell commented.
“The Heineken Champions Cup is quite a unique tournament, in the way that it’s structured so it might take getting used to in comparisons to Super Rugby in Australia, where you only have 15 rounds.
“It’ll be an increase in the amount of rugby I’m used to with all the different competitions, but it’ll be a fantastic experience.
“I want to come over here and play some good footy, string some wins together to start this season, and be part of this special team.”
Join Joe in becoming part of the Exile Nation by securing your place at the Gtech Community Stadium for the 2022/23 season with a Season Ticket, available to purchase here.