Michael Le Bourgeois: adapting, leading, and desert islands
Last season’s Championship player of the season and Wasps latest success story Michael le Bourgeois reveals his transformation from a laid-back squad member on the verge of being sacked by Bedford Blues to authoritative club captain. The Jerseyman also talks desert island essentials and which colour crayon he’d be.
After losing Kiwi playmaker Jimmy Gopperth to a nine-month ACL injury layoff over the summer, the importance of Jersey Reds Academy product Michael Le Bourgeois to Wasps boss Dai Young has exceeded any preconceived expectations.
Having shown enough promise whilst rising through the English league system with Jersey and subsequently captaining Bedford and claiming the league’s Player Of The Season Award, the Championship star might have shared a wry smile at the thought of playing alongside All Blacks fly-half Lima Sopoaga and British and Irish Lions star Elliot Daly. However, a slight grin and perhaps a tweak of his impressive handlebar moustache is all the reaction you are likely to catch from the equable utility man.
Le Bourgeois’ promotion from a squad member some would - by his own admission - consider apathetic or even lazy to become Bedford’s leading man would see him form a different outward appearance. There was a time during his spell with Bedford that Le Bourgeois was close to being sacked by the Director of Rugby Mike Rayer, who, instead of releasing a player full of potential but prone to getting himself into trouble, made him his club captain.
Now comfortable operating at both Premiership and Champions Cup level, Le Bourgeois described the transition that followed Rayer’s show of faith and acceptance of the captain’s armband.
"I'm a very chilled, laid-back person and sometimes it comes across as being lazy or that I don't really care.” Le Bourgeois explained. “I've always worked hard but I've learned that, especially with the captaincy with Bedford, I have to show it as well."
"I've had to change my mind-set a bit towards how everyone else sees me because when I'm leading they might start thinking that I don't really care. It's just been about showing that I am working hard and this is what I want to do and that I'm capable of doing it."
"That laid-back character hasn't disappeared, but it's had to sit back a bit and lead with some sternness, learning to come across with a bit of authority.
“And also making sure people don't think I'm coming across as an idiot!"
Equipped with his fortified attitude and matured approach borne of his time as skipper and a rather recognisable 70s-esque countenance, the Wasps midfielder feels he has adapted to life within the upper echelons of club rugby without demur, attributing his gradual rise through the leagues with Jersey to his somewhat osmotic transition.
"I was actually quite lucky with the way Jersey were heading at the time I came through. It was when they were starting to look at building and progressing through the leagues. I just happened to be coming up at that time, I think they were in London South Two or something like that."
"If I wasn't stepping up to it every year through the leagues I wouldn't be here today. For me it was about facing that different challenge every year, and it's [the Premiership] gone alright for me so far."
“It's obviously unfortunate for Jimmy [Gopperth], you don't wish that on anyone, but it's given me the opportunity to have a bit more game time than anyone was really expecting. I think I'm managing to keep up with the game and like before, I'm acclimatising to it and slowly building on that."
Having faced the challenges of Europe’s startling pace and physicality, the new heights of mid-week running and general exhaustives, Le Bourgeois’ latest trials came in the form of The Rugby Magazine’s final trio of questions.
Q: Firstly, if you could take just three things with you to a desert island, what would they be?
A: "I'd take a knife, a sharp knife. I'd take maybe a flint. And honestly, I'd just take like a ball. Something just to play around with."
Q: If you had to fight one horse-sized duck or 20 duck-sized horses, which would you choose?
A: "I'd probably go for the one big fight. Twenty of them, it's just too much. I'd go for the one big fight, go hard, probably lose, but yeah."
Q: If you were the new crayon in the box, which colour would you be?
A: "Probably something like a mauve, like a light purple. Something different, but very calm.”
Shedding light on his rather unique, yet challenge-hungry persona, it would come as no surprise to see the 28-year-old become a regular fan favourite at the Ricoh Arena and potentially one of the great characters adding to the modern rugby scene. He may be considering shaving it off, but Le Bourgeois’ distinguished mustachio is both a welcome throwback and a twist on the modern professional rugby player.