Apisai to lead New Zealand under-20s
Leni Apisai is already being hit up for match tickets to the world under-20 rugby championship in Britain in June.
The Northern United, Wellington Lions and Hurricanes hooker was named as New Zealand under-20 captain this month. He said it was exciting and humbling to be asked by coach Scott Robertson to lead the side for upcoming matches against Australia and to the worlds.
‘‘It’s a huge honour to put on that black jersey,’’ he said. ‘‘When I got the phone call [from Robertson] I was overwhelmed, but I know I’ve worked pretty hard to get here.’’
The 20-year-old said the calls were already coming in from friends and family to source tickets to the tournament in Manchester, where New Zealand are defending champions. ‘‘I’m popular at the moment.’’ The second-year Hurricanes rake got his opportunity to start this season’s Super Rugby campaign after an injury to starter and All Black Dane Coles and backup Motu Matu’u.
Apisai took the chance with both hands and showed what he could do.
‘‘I’m comfortable in this environment now and it’s a great squad to be a part of. But I know I need to keep it up and take nothing for granted.’’
He knows what that means following a serious concussion last year. It ruined much of his season, including the chance to travel to Italy for the world under20 championship.
Apisai grew up in Ascot Park, and attended Rangikura School and Aotea College, before spending his last year of secondary school at Wellington College.
He made New Zealand Secondary Schools in 2013 and debuted for the Lions a year later.
He was in the Norths side that lost the Hardham Cup final in 2014 and said getting back to Porirua Park to play or support his home club would always be important.
‘‘That  season was my first proper taste of club rugby and it hardened me up. I only had a couple of runs last year for Norths and just the one against Poneke this year [on April 9], but I love getting back when I can.
‘‘You’re playing with guys who don’t do rugby for a job. They just want to play the game with their mates and have fun, and it’s good for me to experience that.’’
Leni Apisai can’t wait to captain his country this year.