Kelleher settled in France
May 21, 2010
Byron Kelleher plans to make Toulouse his home after his career © Getty Images
Toulouse's terrier scrum-half Byron Kelleher has found a new lease of life in France, a country he plans to settle in permanently once he retires from professional rugby.
Kelleher will take the field against Biarritz on Saturday evening attempting to win his first Heineken Cup. He was in his first season at Toulouse when the French succumbed to Munster in the 2008 final at the Millennium Stadium. The experience revived his passion for rugby having left his native country mourning yet another world cup loss.
In an exclusive interview with ESPN, the 58-cap All Black spoke enthusiastically about learning the language and falling in love with the culture but admitted that he suffered from depression during the early months of his relocation directly after New Zealand's shock elimination by France in the quarterfinals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
"Throughout my rugby career I had been looking at winning the Rugby World Cup. I have been to three Rugby World Cups and haven't succeeded," he said. "It was a huge disappointment because we had such a good team. In my heart and in my mind it was all about winning that competition, and then having not succeeded and then having to change your life, go out of your country and live in France where they don't speak your language was hard.
"I felt depressed for four to six months. It was difficult to manage. But I thought 'no I've made this decision and now I'm going to stick my feet into the ground and make sure I do the best I can in France."
As well as reaching the European Cup final, Toulouse won the Bouclier de Brennus and Kelleher was named French player of the year.
"It was a great surprise for me and I got really emotional after we won the final, I had tears coming down my face. It was the realisation that you can look within yourself and reach your expectations," Kelleher said.
Saturday's final will mean another new experience for the 33-year-old and one that would be the highlight of any French rugby players' career. The all-French affair in Paris may not be the same as winning a World Cup for the New Zealander, but its significance is not lost on the Kiwi from the Kaikorai rugby club.
"In my heart I want to win in Paris. It's a huge thing for French teams and we have a great opportunity to beat Biarritz."