Benson Stanley, one of Auckland Rugby and the Blues’ favourite sons, departed for France earlier today to join Top 14 club ASM Clermont Auvergne for two years.
It’s a new challenge Stanley is relishing so before he left, www.theblues.co.nz caught up with the midfielder to find out about his new adventure and his thoughts on his last five years as a Blues player.
Blues: What influenced your decision to head overseas?
Stanley: At this stage of my career I wasn’t getting any younger and the body wasn’t holding out as well as I would have liked so it’s a chance for me to try something new and be in a new environment and face a new challenge. I might as well get overseas while I can, it’s a fantastic opportunity to go to France and take the family and immerse ourselves in a new culture. It was something I always wanted to do, perhaps it was just brought forward earlier than I probably anticipated. Obviously my concussions and little niggles that cropped up that just weren’t going away played a role so it was a good chance to get up there and try something fresh. Often sometimes a change is all you need.
Blues: How is the head after your concussions?
Stanley: It’s all good. I went to a neuropsychologist and got the testing done and the results came back fine. Cognitive function is good being asymptomatic so that’s all you can hope for. It’s not exactly the entire picture, it doesn’t give you absolute clearance because it’s such a grey area but they couldn’t say you’re not in a position or you can’t play rugby so I take that as a positive and move forward, you just take it as it comes.
Blues: You’re a big family man, is the family looking forward to heading to France with you?
Yes they’re really excited. I’m not entirely sure the kids know what they’re in for. Saying ëyay we’re going to France’ sounds cool to them but once they get up there and realise the cartoon channels are in French I’m sure they’ll want to head home pretty quickly! But given a little bit of time I’m hoping they pick up the lingo pretty quickly and enjoy the opportunity for what it is. I’m really excited for them as well as my own prospects. It’s really cool doing something different as a family and getting out of your comfort zone.
Blues: How’s your French?
Not overly flash, I did enrol in a short term class which was six or seven hours a week but I don’t think they could get the numbers, there weren’t enough people in Auckland wanting to learn French so the class got canned. I’ve been relying on an app I downloaded onto my iPad so when I can be bothered I’m learning the basics but when you hear someone talking French in full flight it’s a wee bit scary.
Blues: Have you spoken with any of your former Blues teammates who are over in France about life there, such as Joe Rokocoko, Luke McAlister or Paul Williams?
Stanley: A little bit, I’ve been speaking to Paul Williams who’s playing for Stade FranÁais and he had his wedding back here the other month and there were a couple of guys at his wedding that were up in France ñ Johnny Leo’o, his brother Gavin, Kevin Senio so I spoke to those guys and everyone’s really supportive. They say it’s a bit of a transition but that you’ll love it. So I’m going up there to enjoy it, I’m under no illusions the language barrier is going to be tough but you’ve got to buy into it and try to really immerse yourself in the culture and give a little bit back.
Blues: The French fans seem incredibly passionate about rugby, is that something you’re looking forward to seeing?
Stanley: Yes I went up for a medical last month and I watched Clermont play their semi against Toulon in Toulouse and I was really blown away to be honest. It’s a carnival atmosphere, there’re bands playing, people shouting and screaming and there’s no room for the niceties of just sitting back and clapping, it’s a lot more than that which is really cool.
Blues: A new chapter starts but another one has just finished. Looking back how much did you enjoy playing for Auckland and the Blues over the years?
Stanley: Apart from the results we’ve had to date, I’ve had an absolutely fantastic time and I’m extremely lucky to have played for the Blues franchise and the province of Auckland. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time from my first game against the Chiefs in 2008 out on Eden Park and right through to this year which has been extremely tough on everyone – the coaches, players, the management team, Andy Dalton and the board, everyone’s had a really tough time.
It was tough at the time but I’m sure in years to come you can look back and say hopefully we took a lot from the experience and we’ve all become better people from it. But there’s more to it than just the results. I’ve made a lot of good friends and I’ve had an absolute ball. From going to Africa, or just turning up to training day in day out, being able to train hard but enjoy the company of the people around you has been really special.
Blues: What was your standout moment playing for the Blues?
My first game on Eden Park was special for me. I was a big supporter of the Blues and Auckland as a kid and used to sit in the terraces watching them – I’d scream my head off and give stick to the opposition supporters. In those days we were winning titles and players like Eroni Clarke and Charles Riechelmann were absolutely doing the business so to get out on the paddock in that first game and realise I’d get to do it myself was pretty special. Moving forward I suppose highlights, in terms of playing, the results haven’t gone the way we would have liked but I think making the semis last year was pretty good. Everyone was under the pump and finals football is where it’s at. Obviously you want to make the final and win the competition. But playing a semi, sure we didn’t play as well as we wanted to in that semi but it was satisfying to actually play finals football, albeit a disappointing result. There are lots of off field highlights, to be perfectly honest everyday I’m not working, I’m playing rugby and coming to training really is a highlight surrounded by a good bunch of players, coaches, management, just good people.
We wish Stanley all the best on his new adventure and thank him for his service to the Blues over the last five years.