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Feels at home . . . Excelsior's English import Josh Phipps is enjoying North Otago rugby and the community. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Most people remember where they were when it was announced New Zealand was going into lockdown.

Excelsior’s imported first five-eighth Josh Phipps (19) certainly does. He was halfway through the long journey from England to Oamaru as the effects of Covid-19 reached our shores.

“It all kicked off when I was on the plane. No-one really thought it was going to get to that point,” Phipps said.

“In the airport it was [like] something out of a movie – everyone was dressed in full body suits. It was crazy.

“I’m counting my lucky stars because I just scraped in.”

It was a while before Phipps got to get out and explore New Zealand, as he was isolated in a hotel for two weeks before getting an exemption to move into a flat in Oamaru.

“I only met five people in the first two months I was here.

“I was pretty nervous moving into the flat, but it couldn’t have been better.”

Phipps connected with Excelsior through his English clubmates, Frank and John Kelly, who had their own New Zealand rugby experiences.

Phipps is a former pupil of Hartpury College, which is regarded as the top rugby school in England. He said rugby in North Otago was a lot more expansive than what he was used to.

“I feel like it suits me because I like to have a go,” he said.

“In England, you have really big guys, but it is more whereas here you have naturally huge athletes.

“Instead of running straight at you they will run to the side and just step you.

“[We were] playing against Old Boys and one of the props put in a chip kick – I did not expect that.”

Although it had been a tough season for Excelsior, Phipps had no regrets, and planned on staying in Oamaru for the rest of his two year visa.

“It’s been a great club, and although the rugby hasn’t gone how we wanted it to, the boys are absolutely brilliant.

“My main goal is finishing the season with Blues. Anything else is a bonus.

“There is such a great community in Oamaru.”

Phipps works for the North Otago Rugby Union, introducing rippa rugby into schools. He also helps coach the St Kevin’s under-15 girls and Waitaki Wahine rugby teams.

Once the rugby season finishes, he planned to see as much of New Zealand as he could, before returning for what he hoped would be a more successful 2021 for Excelsior.

“I feel really settled here. I’m absolutely loving my time and I’m not in a rush to go home.”