‘Don’t need to prove anything to anyone’: Wallabies bruiser opens up on French move – and why he’s found peace in role
Lachie Swinton has opened up on his decision to leave Australian rugby, saying it was a “hard decision” based on a desire to get into a new environment and join one of the premier sides in the thriving French Top 14 competition.
The deal came to pass when the Waratahs hardman was quietly making a statement on tour with Australia A and the Barbarians in France and the United Kingdom.
It was up north, where ruggedness and physicality are craved especially on rain-soaked fields during the cold winter months, that Swinton caught the eyes of his Bordeaux suitors.
“It poked its head up at the backend of the Barbarians tour,” Swinton said.
“I was on holiday and I was thinking about what I wanted to do, and the decision was purely based on getting into a new environment.
“French rugby is the pinnacle right now. You see a lot of great players over there and then to get approached by one of the best clubs in the best comp was a cool thing.
“It was a very hard decision to make. I’m a very proud Tahs person, and it did hurt me to make the call. But it might not be a permanent thing. I’ve got two years with them I’m very keen to go as hard as I possibly can and then the rest will look after itself.”
The seven-Test Wallaby, who was red carded on debut against the All Blacks, told his teammates of his decision to leave during a team bonding trip down south.
“For rugby players, the best thing about rugby is it’s a global game, so I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot sort by putting yourself in this box if you’re not going to go anywhere,” he said.
“The biggest thing for me is I’m really holding onto little moments [this year].
“We went away for pre-season down to Jed’s place and I was sitting around the fire having a few beers with the lads, and I was thinking this could be one of the last times I get to do one of these trips, which is a bit exciting. But change is good sometimes.”
Swinton’s decision to leave the Waratahs at season’s end divided opinion.
Some see him as a walking red card, a relic of the pre-TMO years where you could get away with staying upright in tackles.
Others, like his teammates and coaches, recognise the value of his bruising physicality. It’s why Dave Rennie first picked him for the Wallabies in 2020 and loved his opening half-hour of Test rugby before his high shot on Sam Whitelock saw him become the first Wallaby to be sent off on debut.
Swinton, well, over time he’s come to accept himself for what he is and what he can offer on the field.
“I don’t need to prove anything to anyone else anymore, and it’s quite refreshing that I’m at that point now,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say I don’t care anymore, but I’ve got my Tahs boys and the coaches that I care about and that’s me.
“Everyone knows what I can do, they know what I bring. You either like me or you don’t and so be it.”
Did it take him sometime to get to that point?
“It’s like anyone’s career,” he said. “You’re sort of trying to find your feet, find who you are and I’ve sort of got to a point now where I know the person I am more importantly than the player.”
After recovering from a nerve issue in his shoulder that threatened to end his career in 2022, it took time for Swinton to find his feet upon his return last year.
When he eventually did start to find his inner confidence, the bruising back-rower copped a seven-week ban for a late, high and reckless shot on Force back Jake Strachan.
Even so, recognising his unique physical characteristics, Swinton was asked to attend Eddie Jones’ Wallabies camp on the Gold Coast.
While he ultimately wasn’t selected for the World Cup, it’s believed he was on standby during the Barbarians tour to join the Wallabies after a strong second half of the season where the balance in his game had returned.
“Yeah, it was pretty challenging,” said Swinton about his return to the field after his injury-devastated 2022 campaign.
“I was just trying to focus on my DNA, which was trying to pull off some big hits. But I concentrated on that so much that the rest of my game didn’t really grow at the start. I was talking to the coaches about trying to become more rounded as a footy player and, come this year, I really want to continue that.”
Time to deliver on some unfinished business?
“It’ll be the last season with the Tahs for the next few years, but I’d like to come back at some point,” he said.
“I’m very focused on myself and the Tahs. What else happens with representative stuff is what it is. It’s been a bit scattered in the past. I’ve been in and out for a while now. They know what I can do and offer and if they want that they want that.
“I’m really focused on doing some great at this club, so I can look back really proud of our team and what we’ve done this year.”