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How rugby helped Alex Nankivell 'find my dad's birth father'

By Ned Lester
Alex Nankivell with the ball in hand for the All Blacks XV. Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

It’s not every day that a selection in a rugby team leads you to find your genetic grandfather, but that was exactly the case for former Maori All Black and recent Munster import Alex Nankivell.


The 27-year-old headed offshore after a stellar 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season, opting not to be defined by any potential All Blacks selection and explore the doors his rugby talents had opened for him.

In his first four showings for Munster, the Kiwi has impressed with his all-around game and work ethic. That will come as no surprise to Kiwi fans, because while Nankivell fell just outside Ian Foster’s favour for All Blacks honours, the utility back was a guaranteed selection for both the All Blacks XV and Maori All Blacks.

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His first Maori All Blacks cap came in 2019, after some digging confirmed the unsung Chiefs hero’s heritage.

“It was a bit of a surprise getting called in,” Nankivell told the Munster Rugby YouTube channel.

“Obviously, you’ve got to have Maori heritage. My dad’s adopted, so he didn’t know his parents but he knew through the grapevine somehow that he was Maori.

“There was lots of digging and it was pretty special, we ended up finding my dad’s birth father. He knew his birth mother, we found her a few years ago, but then we found his birth father and all his family.


“It was pretty cool. I got to represent the Maori All Blacks, my family and extended family and where I’m from. Also, a part of it too we got to find my dad’s family.”


It may well have been while representing the Maori All Blacks against Ireland in 2022 when Nankivell captured the interest of Munster’s coaches, who he had a second opportunity to impress with the All Blacks XV later last year in Dublin.

While the prospect of a new All Blacks coach in a new World Cup cycle was a tempting proposition, a fresh challenge in Ireland enticed Nankivell’s competitive instincts and he found himself signing a two-year deal.

Following in the footsteps of fellow former Chiefs players Bundee Aki and James Lowe, there is a clear pathway for Kiwi success in Ireland. Nankivell may also learn from his predecessor in the Munster midfield, Malakai Fekitoa, who had somewhat of an underwhelming impact for the club.


While he admits it was a nervous time moving to the other side of the world to play a different brand of rugby, Nankivell says his first few months with the club have “honestly been unreal.”

“I had a bit of anxiety coming over, not really knowing too many people but John Ryan helped me out a lot. He was the bridge between coming from the Chiefs to here. It’s been awesome. The lads have looked after me.

“When you’ve been playing in New Zealand for a different team and a different system and having to come back over here and learn a completely different system was challenging.

“I haven’t fully grasped all of the systems and little intricacies that they do differently over here but I think it’s probably the best way to be fair, you learn quicker when you get thrown in the deep end.

“It’s been awesome to pull on the jersey four times already, so excited for the next one.”


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Michael 212 days ago

How is that possible? Unless he has an Irish grandparent hidden away somewhere. 5 year residency wait, he’ll be 32 by then. Plenty of good centres coming through in Ireland. Sean Jansen and Shamus Hurley-Langton are more likely candidates for Ireland.

Andrew 212 days ago

Watch him turn out in a green jersey sooner than you think.

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