Weepu: ‘I lost the love of the game’

The Hutt News - - SPORT - AARON GOILE

‘‘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.’’

ELIAS RODRIGUEZ/GETTY IMAGES

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.

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