The England front row that will face the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday can take comfort from the fact Fiji prop Haereiti Hetet has not inherited all of the rugby attributes of his father, legendary tighthead Joeli Veitayaki.
He played 49 Test matches between 1994 and 2003 and had the ‘honour’ of being named the heaviest prop at the 2003 World Cup in Australia, tipping the scales a 137kgs (21st 5lbs). That was after he had enjoyed the previous Christmas with his family at 160kgs (25st 3lb).
Fast forward 17 years and it is 23-year-old Hetet’s turn to enter the international stage. He is one of seven players from the Fiji squad preparing for the autumn Test series to be drafted into the Barbarians squad.
Vern Cotter, the Fiji coach, has that role with the Barbarians this week and is a fan of the New Zealand Maori player who is known as Big H. He has played loosehead for Waikato and Bay of Plenty and weighs in at 18st 8lbs, nearly three-stone lighter than when his father squeezed into his tight-fitting Fiji jersey at the 2003 World Cup.
Veitayaki had a colourful career, taking a three-year break from the international game with Fiji to play social rugby. He even turned out for Welsh club Dunvant, who climbed up the leagues to qualify for the 1999 European Challenge Cup and were in the same group with Aurillac, Narbonne and Newcastle who featured Jonny Wilkinson and Va’aiga Tuigamala.
The pass ?
The finish ?
— Barbarian FC (@Barbarian_FC) October 20, 2020
A season spent with Ulster was only memorable for the amount of business the Fijian prop gave local takeaway shops, but Veitayaki returned to the national colours and was part of the Fiji team narrowly beaten 22-20 by Scotland in the final pool match of their 2003 World Cup pool.
Now 53, Veitayaki wanted Hetet to play for the Fijian U20s but was told his son was too young. That is how he ended up playing against Fiji for the New Zealand Maori.
“Growing up I always supported Fiji just because it was a part of me. Watching them play every game they play, whether it’s rugby or other sports, I would always back them,” Hetet told Radio NZ.
“It’s just like being a Kiwi and backing every New Zealander. We played them in Fiji and it was pretty physical, so it will be good to be on their side playing with them (this time around).”
Hetet’s selection in Fiji’s autumn Test squad and the Barbarians came as a big surprise. “It sort of came out of the blue. I got a call (from Vern Cotter) seeing if I was keen? He’d been watching me since last year and likes what he sees I guess, the progress between then and now.”
Cotter is expecting the prop to make a big impression: “Haereiti is an unknown player but his father isn’t, he’s the son of Joeli Veitayaki, somebody who is very well known. Haereiti has really impressed us with his performance as he can play both sides, left and right, and he is very excited about this opportunity.”
Goosebumps ? ?
Filmed before our match v @WelshRugbyUnion ???????
— Barbarian FC (@Barbarian_FC) January 7, 2020
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