Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global
NZ NZ

'I don’t need to prove anything': Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens on facing the Blues

By Adam Julian
Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens of the Highlanders looks on during the Super Rugby Pacific Pre-Season match between Highlanders and Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 10, 2024 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The Otago Daily Times has hailed Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens as one of the Highlanders’ best singings in a decade.

ADVERTISEMENT

The 23-year-old lived up to that billing in Dunedin on Saturday night. On debut against Moana Pasifika, the fullback scored two tries, carried for 93 meters, and busted ten tackles in a sometimes scintillating opening round 35-21 victory.

“It was a dream outcome and a special night, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens told RugbyPass.

“My family from New Plymouth was there and our home fans were buzzing because of O’week. I did a lot of prep throughout the week reviewing how Moana Pasifika attacked and defended. As a backline, we wanted to make sure that we were aligned. We were mostly on point with that.”

Video Spacer

Video Spacer

The Highlanders were on point in the pre-season winning all three matches against Moana Pasifika (36-28), the Hurricanes (52-19), and the Crusaders (41-14).

Tonight, in Melbourne the Highlanders clash with the Blues who were also first-round victors and unblemished in their three pre-season outings.

Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens played for the Blues 13 times from 2021 to 2023. All Blacks Stephen Perofeta and Beauden Barrett were his main competition at fullback, so he often played on the wing where All Blacks Mark Telea and Caleb Clarke featured.

“It’s been a funny week because I know those guys well; how they play and what they think. We’ve got an attacking mindset to do well. We’ve identified some areas where we think we can hurt them. Personally; I don’t want this game to become too emotional. I don’t need to prove anything; I just need to do my job.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens’ main priority is to inject himself into the backline and create attacking momentum. He did this extremely effectively in the NPC helping Taranaki win the title. He was the Bulls’ top try scorer with six and carried for the most metres (873) and beat the most defenders (43). He spent the entire season as a fullback.

“I learned a lot under Leon MacDonald at the Blues about the mindset of being a fullback. I had to focus more on defence and kicking and learn when to insert myself into the game more which I enjoyed.

“I’m so lucky to have Ben Smith on the coaching staff of the Highlanders. I think he’s one of the greatest fullbacks ever. Bender has taken me under his wing and encouraged me to stay ahead of the game by reading situations better and counter-attacking without hesitation when it’s on.”

Smith played 154 games for the Highlanders winning a Super Rugby title in 2015. He was the only All Black to start every Test in 2013 when they went 14-0; the only international team in the professional era to complete an entire calendar year undefeated until France followed suit in 2022.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Ben was a run-first fullback and that suits my game. In the off-season, I’ve gone from 93kg to 98kg but maintained the same pace. I noticed that against Moana Pasifika. They’re big boys who hit hard but I felt the extra strength in the contact,” Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens said.

Born in Christchurch and raised in New Plymouth, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens attended the same alma matta as the Barrett family, Francis Douglas Memorial College. He was in the First XV from 2017 to 2019 and rated victories against Wesely College and Palmerston North Boys’ High School as highlights.

He was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools in 2019 and then headed to Tauranga to start a two-year contract with the All Blacks Sevens. Unfortunately, he struggled with a finger injury. Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens debuted for Taranaki in the NPC in 2020 and in 2021 helped the Bulls to a perfect 10-0 season.

His hyphenated name is a tribute to his Fijian mum and hospital worker Patty.

“My name looks more intimidating than it actually is. Mum has been so important making sure I’m doing the right things on and off the field, keeping me grounded. There is a lot of travel in rugby. Mum has probably been to three-quarters of my games. That’s pretty special.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Join free

Fresh Starts | Episode 1 | Will Skelton

ABBIE WARD: A BUMP IN THE ROAD

Aotearoa Rugby Podcast | Episode 8

James Cook | The Big Jim Show | Full Episode

New Zealand victorious in TENSE final | Cathay/HSBC Sevens Day Three Men's Highlights

New Zealand crowned BACK-TO-BACK champions | Cathay/HSBC Sevens Day Three Women's Highlights

Japan Rugby League One | Steelers v Sungoliath | Full Match Replay

Rugby Europe Women's Championship | Netherlands v Spain

Trending on RugbyPass

Comments

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free
ADVERTISEMENT

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

FEATURE
FEATURE Ethan Waller: 'I’d rather bow out with more in the tank than claw onto a career'. Ethan Waller: 'I’d rather bow out with more in the tank than claw onto a career'.
Search