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Chiefs Manawa preview with Tanya Kalounivale: 'When I enter the field, I’m there to protect my family'

By Adam Julian
LEVIN, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 25: Tanya Kalounivale of the Waitomo Cheifs Manawa in action during the round one Super Rugby Aupiki match between Hurricanes Poua and Chiefs Manawa at Levin Domain, on February 25, 2023, in Levin, New Zealand. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

Tanya Kalounivale was a human wrecking ball in the first 20 minutes of the Super Rugby Aupiki final last year.

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The Chiefs Manawa prop scored two tries and frequently cast aside Matatu defenders like tenpins as the hosts built a 19-0 lead in as many minutes. Inxcelibley that advantage crumbled as the Southerners staged a heroic rally to win the title.

Don’t expect Kalounivale to change her approach when Super Rugby Aupiki starts on Saturday. The first Fijian-born Black Fern has a simple and ruthless mindset when she plays.

“When I enter the field, I’m there to protect my family,” Kalounivale told RugbyPass.

“I play for my teammates; those on the field and injured. I want to do the management proud.

“I saw the opportunity to score tries. I’m grateful my teammates put me into good positions.”

Chiefs Manawa appear to be in a strong position to win their second Aupiki title. There are seven Black Ferns forwards in the squad, including Rugby World Cup winners, Krystal Murray, Kennedy Simon, and Chelsea Bremner.

Black Ferns halfback Ariana Bayler is from Waikato and joins Manawa from the Blues. Two Matatu champions have also ventured North. Black Ferns winger Grace Steinmetz and fullback Renee Holmes join a stacked backline that also features the return of Black Ferns star Ruby Tui and midfield back Chelsea Semple. Internationals Seina Saito (Japan) and Bitila Tawake (Fiji) are the other notable newcomers.

In pre-season Chiefs Manawa beat the Blues 50-24 in Hamilton. Kalounivale was satisfied with the outcome.

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“Our game plan happened the way we meant it to. We were able to build phases and try new combinations

“Our scrum is looking strong. I have Kate Hendwood by my side and she can play both sides. We have good competition in the squad but are keen to help each other.”

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Hurricanes Poua will need to help each other if they are to have any shot of toppling Manawa in the season opener. Last year the hosts were canned 53-21 and 43-21 by Manawa. The Poua have lost Black Ferns prop Krystal Murray, No. 8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker, Wallaroos first-five Carys Dallinger, and top try-scorer Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daily from last season, while star winger Ayesha Leti-I’iga remains sidelined with a long-term injury. They are the youngest side in the competition but Kalounivale is weary.

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“We’re not underestimating Poua. They’ve got some big girls. We are going to have to win the contact area to get our game going.”

Kalounivale hinted that Merania Paraone is a Manawa youngster to watch. She was a winger but is likely to play hooker. Kalounivale wouldn’t hesitate at a chance to play in the backs but says she’ll likely, “stay in my lane.”

Kalounivale burst her way into the Black Ferns in 2022. She was part of the Pacific Four series-winning team. Following a dynamic Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) for Waikato, she was selected for the Rugby World Cup winning team.

She appeared in the comprehensive group victories over Wales (56-12) and Scotland (57-0) recovering from an injury that ruled her out of selection for the opening fixture against Australia.

It was her three older brothers who gave her an appreciation for rugby growing up as a Kanakana villager on the Island of Vanua Levu.

She first played organised rugby in 2017. That year the Kalounivale family migrated to New Zealand in pursuit of a “better life” and soon Tanya was playing for Hamilton Old Boys.

“My Mum went to see Greg Smith to try and get my brothers into the club. Greg had played hooker for Fiji (44 tests). Mum mentioned she had a daughter who loves to play and soon I had to play,” Kalounivale recalled.

“I found it way harder than my brothers’ rugby. There was way more running, but all Fijians are naturally talented,” she laughed.

Blessed with raw power and the aforementioned Fijian flair, Kalounivale helped Hamilton Old Boys win the WRU senior championship and featured six times for FPC semi-finalists Waikato in 2017.

By 2020 she’d established herself as one of the pre-eminent front rowers in the county alongside provincial teammates and fellow Black Ferns Toka Natua and Grace Houpapa-Barrett. She scored a try in the FPC semi-final against Manawat?, but Waikato would lose on a last-play try to Canterbury in the final.

The following season Waikato would gain revenge on Canterbury by winning the FPC final 22-20 in Christchurch. Kalounivale played in wins against Bay of Plenty (27-10), Otago (29-22), and Wellington (34-27) but missed the decider because she was picked for the Black Ferns Northern Tour. Kalounivale saw no game time.

Chiefs Manawa v Hurricanes Poua kickoff at 2:05 pm on Saturday 2nd March (NZDT)

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