Weepu: ‘I lost the love of the game’
‘‘I'm one of those guys who kind of just goes off the cuff.’’
Recovered from his health scare a fortnight ago, Piri Weepu is enjoying playing rugby again in New Zealand, admitting he lost his love for the game in a European system he is highly critical of.
The former All Blacks halfback is this year plying his trade in the Heartland Championship with Wairarapa Bush, having returned after three years in the northern hemisphere. His cousin, Damon Tafatu, is the Bush’s trainer, and 33-year-old Weepu was quite easily convinced to have a run in the amateur grassroots competition, where fun, not money, is the driver, as he looks to give back to the sport, before hoping to embark on a coaching career.
Having just duked it out with another former All Blacks halfback in Alby Mathewson in a 32-25 defeat to King Country on Saturday in Te Kuiti a beaniewearing, beer-sipping Weepu explained why it was so good to be back in Kiwi-land.
A nation’s hero during the 2011 World Cup win - remember ‘keep calm - Piri’s on’ - Weepu’s 71st and final test came in 2013, and he moved overseas after the following year’s Super Rugby season. But stints in England with London Welsh and Wasps, then in France with Oyonnax and Narbonne, were all terminated early, for various reasons, and it’s clear now the European scene wasn’t at all his cup of tea.
‘‘I lost it really, the love of the game, while I was away,’’ said Weepu, who had always been such a fun-loving character. ‘‘Playing footy overseas was probably a bad choice on my behalf. But you want to experience opportunities overseas, you can see what the rugby is like.’’
But Weepu felt ‘‘the way that they do things is totally wrong, in terms of rugby nous’’.
‘‘It’s not just the way that they play - preparation during the week, there’s not a lot of focus on skillset, a lot of it’s, more going into the gym and trying to look good for the beach, not that there’s a lot of beaches over there,’’ he said.
‘‘The rugby brain is not as developed, in terms of reading a game properly, or each individual understanding the game.
‘‘But you come back here, you’ve got club players that could play a lot better than some of those boys that are in some of those comps over there.’’
He arrived home not really sure what next, but when Wairarapa Bush came knocking all Weepu asked for was a vehicle to carpool to trainings and games with other Wellington-based team-mates.
‘‘It’s purely just to play footy and feel that love again, and then hopefully hang the old boots up,’’ he said of his latest endeavour.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, with Weepu’s debut for the province - the 79-7 roundone drubbing by Wanganui at Cooks Gardens on August 26 - prematurely ended by what was initially reported to be an asthma attack. Only Weepu hasn’t had asthma since he was a kid. Turns out it was just the remnants of a flu, combined with the fact he hadn’t played for seven months.
He’s hoping to build on Bush’s Meads Cup semifinal appearances of the last two years and is likely to finish playing at season’s end and pursue coaching.
But it’s a fluid situation, for the man who seems back to his happy-go-lucky self.
‘‘I’m one of those guys who kind of just goes off the cuff,’’ he said. ‘‘I hate plans.’’
Piri Weepu admits he lost the love of the game during his time in Europe, and is delighted to be playing back in New Zealand.