At the end of the final rugby test match against France last month, a small group of All Blacks gathered to pray. Among them, fresh from his test match debut, was centre Jack Goodhue. War Cry caught up with Jack to talk rugby, faith and The Salvation Army.
If rugby is a religion in New Zealand, Jack Goodhue grew up in a family that was firmly steeped in the national ‘faith’. Growing up as one of four boys on a farm near Kawakawa, rugby was a big part of life. Jack’s father was the club captain and a coach for the United Kawakawa club, coaching all his sons and is still active at the club. The Goodhue brothers also attended Mt Albert Grammar School in Auckland, which has a strong rugby pedigree.
Even at home, rugby was the game of choice. ‘We were always out on the lawn throwing the ball around. We used to play a lot of touch rugby, two verses two, and the games used to last for hours. It’s definitely helped me get where I am today.’
Two of his brothers went on to play professionally. His older brother Cameron played for the Blues, and also in England with Worcester and London Welsh. Jack’s twin brother Josh is a lock with the Blues.
Although they played together for most of their career so far, Jack says he’s looking forward to the opportunity to face his twin in Crusaders vs Blues matches.
‘We have a normal brother rivalry. It was quite competitive at primary school, but now we’re more mature young men—well, speaking for myself!—Josh is getting there,’ he jokes. ‘If we play against each other then no doubt the competitve juices will be flowing.’
While rugby was a key part of growing up, Christianity wasn’t, he says. It wasn’t until he was nearing the end of high school as a boarder at Mt Albert Grammar that Goodhue became a Christian.
‘I was 16 and I went with a mate from the boarding hostel to Vector Arena to hear an evangalist by the name of Greg Laurie speak. It got me thinking about things. I looked a lot at the history of Jesus and the authenticity of the Bible—could it be trusted? And the science.’
While he came to the decision that it was true, Jack says becoming a Christian at that age wasn’t a simple choice.
‘At that age, 16, 17, I didn’t really want to believe it, but you’ve got to believe what’s true. A lot of my mates probably thought I was crazy, I probably thought the same thing as well to an extent, but good mates accept you for who you are.’
After high school, Jack headed to Canterbury to study agricultural science at Lincoln University—later graduating with a Diploma in Applied Science. Moving to Canterbury was about the study, he says, but the rugby scene helped with his decision.
It was here that alongside his growing rugby career, Jack spent some time with The Salvation Army. ‘I had a flatmate who was going to Christchurch North Corps with a workmate, so I thought I’d go along with him.’
Although he enjoyed the corps and admires the people there, Jack says there weren’t many people around his age. He and his friend decided it was important for their faith to have others around their age to walk the Christian journey with.
During his time at the corps the phrase ‘Jack is active in The Salvation Army’ was included in his player biography and, although he is now attending another church, the phrase has stuck—regularly included in news articles about him. ‘It’s been recycled more than a reusable shopping bag,’ Jack jokes.
On the rugby field his talent was making waves as he broke into the Canterbury provincial squad, playing five games in the ITM Cup before concussion ended his season. In 2015, he was called up to play for the New Zealand Sevens team, helping them to second place in Las Vegas and a win in their home tournament in Wellington.
Despite the possibility of earning a place in the New Zealand Olympic team, he decided to turn down Sevens to play for the All Blacks in the World Rugby Under 20 Championship, which the team won.
Everything seemed to be going his way as he secured a starting role in the Canterbury squad, but, two games into the season, he suffered a serious knee injury, tearing his ACL and MCL—two of the major ligaments in the knee. It took a month for the swelling to go down enough for him to be able to have surgery and almost a year before he was back playing.
It is a sign of how highly he was rated, though, that despite still being injured he was called up for the Crusaders and was able to train with the team for the last few months of the season.
The team’s faith in him was rewarded when he returned to the field with a series of strong performances to help Canterbury win the ITM Cup, and then to secure his place in the Crusaders side that won last year’s Super Rugby title.
His form also saw him gain his first call-up to the All Blacks squad for the British and Irish Lions tour last year, as injury cover for fellow Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty.
Although he didn’t get any game time on that tour, he was called up to the All Blacks end of year tour of the Northern Hemisphere, making his All Blacks debut in a 28–23 win against a France XV in November. He put in a strong performance, which included setting up the All Blacks opening try before being yellow carded in the 67th minute as he tripped rushing back on defence, and knocked down a French player without the ball.
‘That was pretty funny. I look back now and laugh at it, but it was a terrible feeling at the time. I’ve only had two yellow cards in my career, the first for the Under 20s in the World Cup and then on my debut for the All Blacks.’
The selectors’ faith in him wasn’t shaken though—with All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen an outspoken fan—as Jack got his next call-up this year and his full test debut.
His faith is an important part of keeping him grounded in the intense environment of the training field and in games, he says.
‘It gives you reassurance and confidence to know that God is in control. I guess the thing it helps me with the most with is that I know rugby isn’t the most important thing.’
At the Crusaders, Jack says there’s a group of Christian players who meet up weekly and study the book of Mark, working through one chapter each week. Among the Christian members of the All Blacks there’s also a bond.
‘We often pray after the game. Win or lose it’s important to say thank you, to remember what life is all about and to give God the glory and honour him in whatever happens out there on the field.’
The rest of the squad is accepting of the religious beliefs of players, he says, even with the controversy caused by comments on homosexuality by Australian player Israel Folau.
‘It does open avenues for conversations in the team. I have had some chats with some of the boys on what the Bible does say about God and sin, that we’re all sinners.’
When I spoke to Jack, he was on a week off after his exploits with the All Blacks, but he’s still planning to get some training in, so the body isn’t too stiff. But time away from the game is important too, he says.
‘I’d love to play in a social touch team, but you can’t do that—your hobbies have to be off your feet and helping the body recover. Church is a great thing to take my mind off rugby and switch off. I do some mentoring for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I go and hang out with this kid that I have gotten to know over the last year. It’s a good way to spend an hour.’
Playing rugby and making the All Blacks is a dream come true, but he’s also open about the challenges of the game and the grind of a job—even your dream job.
‘You can’t help it, getting up on a Monday morning, having to train and you’d rather go work in an office, but most of the time it’s fun to train and keep fit and be with a good group of guys. It would be unrealistic to enjoy every moment, but you have got to enjoy most of them.’
This is especially true at the elite level and standards demanded by the All Blacks.
‘It [the All Blacks] is a tough environment. There’s a lot of pressure. You put a lot of effort into it. They want you to feel uncomfortable so you’re really prepared for when you’re out there, because there’s going to be some uncomfortable moments when you’re down and you need to step up.’
After being involved for three series in a row, Jack says he’s still getting used to the idea of being an All Black. ‘I don’t know if it ever feels normal being in that environment. This is my third year in Super Rugby and I’m starting to feel like I’m supposed to be there now. Whether that happens for the All Blacks, I’ll have to wait and see. I just go out every day and try and be the best player I can, but sometimes you step back and think, “This is reality, a few nights ago I played for the All Blacks”.’
Although his focus is to keep doing just that, with the possible reward of a place in the All Blacks World Cup squad next year, Jack says faith helps give him a good perspective on his game.
‘You can get consumed by the game and your performance becomes so important it defines who you are. It helps me remember it’s not about my playing ability, it’s who I am as a person, living the life God wants me to live—being true to that is the most important thing. If I wasn’t meant to be playing rugby, if I was confident God wanted me to do something else, I think I could make that decision.’
by Robin Raymond (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 28 July 2018, p6-9 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.