At just 20 years of age, Rivez Reihana may look like a boy amongst men when he runs onto the park for his Super Rugby Aotearoa debut this season.
The new Chiefs first five is well-versed in competing with players that are older, bigger and more experienced than he is, however.
In his freshman year of high school, Reihana was brought into his high school’s First XV and asked to plug gaps in the outside backs.
That’s not uncommon in the more rural areas, but Reihana was reared at Saint Kentigern College in Auckland – the school that’s produced All Blacks such as Joe Rokocoko, John Afoa, Jerome Kaino and Braydon Ennor.
The team weren’t simply going through the motions either. While Reihana was at Saint Kents, the First XV managed three Auckland 1A titles and one further finals appearance.
“I sort of made my debut in Year 9,” Reihana somewhat sheepishly admitted to RugbyPass.
“I jumped in when I was maybe 14. I remember it like it was yesterday, far out, it was pretty daunting. I was half the size of some of the lads.”
Debuting in your first year of schooling is the kind of achievement that is unsurprisingly quickly picked up on by talent scouts and in Reihana’s penultimate year of college, Andrew Strawbridge, the Chiefs’ then-resource coach, came calling.
“I didn’t really think I had that much attention on me at the time,” said Reihana. “I was just really pumped that I was even on the Chiefs and Straws’ radar.
“I was just buzzing, I was really excited to be in the conversation, to have my name chucked about in some conversations between those guys [Dave Rennie and co] who were so high up at the time.”
On a trip down to Hamilton with the Saint Kents First XV, Reihana stopped in to chat with Strawbridge and before he knew it, was messing around with the Chiefs squad at a skills training session.
It was a surreal experience for the teenager – but his early ascension to his school’s premier team meant the young playmaker wasn’t too fazed by the superstars that surrounded him, he was already used to rubbing shoulders with players above his station.
Brodie Retallick, one of the greatest players in rugby history, is weighing up his future.
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) February 8, 2021
Following the visit, Reihana and his family deliberated over his future, but the end result was inevitable from the start.
“My parents, especially my dad, they were quite keen on getting me down here and with the Chiefs,” Reihana said.
“We loved it from the moment we first visited here. The Chiefs environment, the Chiefs base itself, the players had a big helping hand in turning it into a rugby environment.
“That was quite cool, my dad quite liked that – the humble sort of ethos that was in and around the environment at the time. I think that was brought in by Dave Rennie and that. That was a big factor in terms of me coming down.”
The Chiefs and Waikato signed Reihana up on an investment deal, which ensured that he would spend his first years out of school representing the Mooloos.
As his eventual spell with Waikato drew near, Reihana continued to tick the boxes, representing the New Zealand Schools side in 2017 and 2018, then playing for the U20 team a year later – while he was still 19.
Later that year, Reihana made his first appearance for Waikato, in their opening Mitre 10 Cup clash with Canterbury. It was a debut that had been two years in the making and while Reihana had been anticipating a small stint at the back-end of the game, fate had other ideas.
“[Waikato fullback] Tyler Campbell ended up going down in like the first minute and had broken his ankle or leg so I got chucked into the mixer straight away,” said Reihana.
“I was practising at 10 the entire week then played 78 minutes at 15, which was an experience, to say the least.”
In a back-and-forth affair which saw the lead change hands six times, Waikato emerged victorious, 31-28.
Star Chiefs flanker Lachlan Boshier has opened up on his omission from last year's All Blacks squad following a raft of compelling Super Rugby Aotearoa displays.https://t.co/r4igB3YOFW
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 2, 2021
Reihana went on to make a further eight appearances in 2019 and would have again featured for the New Zealand U20 side last year, if the campaign hadn’t been curtailed due to COVID.
In 2020, Reihana suited up to play for Waikato once more – and it’s again a match against Canterbury that the youngster remembers fondly.
In the last act of a game that had transitioned well into overtime, Reihana was called upon to slot a wide-angle conversion that was needed for his side to record the win.
“It was quite an ugly game, to be fair,” Reihana said. “Both teams weren’t really triggering in terms of their attack but I think it was probably a credit to both side’s defences and it only came down to the last… not even the last minute. 10 minutes into overtime, I think it was the 89th minute.”
A chance to secure victory well past the final buzzer is exactly the kind of situation that first fives thrive on, surely?
“Yeah 100%. That’s the sort of stuff that dreams are made of. Whether you get it or not, I just try and trust the process. It’s a little bit cliche but it actually means a lot. You can either be results-driven or process-driven and I just tried my best to be process-driven at that point in time.
“Obviously I felt the pressure but yeah just decided to walk towards it and stick to my process and if it goes over, it goes over. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
To Reihana’s credit, the ball sailed through the posts.
“It was a little bit of a sticky situation but we managed to get through.”
Reihana will compete with Bryn Gatland and Kaleb Trask for the No 10 jersey at the Chiefs this year and while his experience at Super Rugby level is limited, his undeniable talent could see the pivot handed greater opportunities than many would expect for a 20-year-old.
Despite growing up in Northland and completing his education in Auckland, Reihana is comfortable where he’s landed and is firmly entrenched as a Chiefs man through and through. For Reihana and his family, he’s in the perfect place to flourish.
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