An extraordinary year in the life of Sevu Reece is poised to deliver an extraordinary payback in Tokyo on Saturday. It was just 54 weeks ago when Irish rugby seemingly left the 22-year-old’s fledgeling career in limbo.
He had agreed to sign for Connacht in May 2018 but his involvement in a July altercation with his girlfriend on a night out in Hamilton had a court sequel where he acknowledged he had an issue with alcohol and was reprimanded with a fine after he pleaded guilty to assault.
The matter didn’t end there, though. With the IRFU feeling the need to hold its players to higher standards of behaviour in the wake of the Paddy Jackson/Stuart Olding controversy that resulted in the sacking of the Ulster pair, the administration in Dublin let it be known to Connacht that their new singing was no longer welcome and the contract offer was to be torn up.
That was confirmed on October 4 last year but if the IRFU thought that was the last that would be heard of Reece they have been sadly mistaken.
After finishing the domestic Mitre Cup competition as top try scorer with Waikato, he was handed a Super Rugby lifeline last December when called into the wider Crusaders squad as cover during pre-season.
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What has since unfolded has been the stuff of New Zealand fairytale – and potential Irish World Cup nightmare. Israel Dagg’s injury-enforced retirement opened a slot in the Super Rugby franchise’s roster and from there Reece lethally worked his way up the selection ladder.
Come the end of the Super Rugby season in July, he not only signed off with a winner’s medal in his back pocket but he also bagged the accolade as the tournament’s top scorer which an eye-bulging contribution of 15 tries.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 17, 2019
Now, after four tries in five Test appearances, he will line up on the wing in the World Cup quarter-finals against the country that forcibly told him he was not welcome to earn a living there.
His selection by Hansen for the Saturday showdown in Tokyo hasn’t gone down well in some Irish quarters with the Irish Independent, that country’s biggest selling newspaper, damningly headlining a piece on the player: ‘New Zealand have undermined own values by giving Sevu Reece starring role’.
In the article, it was stated that “he’s so good at rugby, the All Blacks have made peace with his indiscretions and selected him anyway… he has made the most of that chance and the All Black threat is all the stronger for his inclusion in the team.
“But selecting him has left them open to the accusation that they have undermined their own culture for the sake of the win.”
An excellent record in 75 matches in six years boils down to a single 80 minutes in Tokyo for Joe Schmidt as Ireland go head to head against his native New Zealandhttps://t.co/4ur0hNf9oj
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 18, 2019
It’s not an accusation that has just played out in just the newspaper either. With Reece wheeled out at a media event in Tokyo, it was put to him that he could well be playing his rugby this week in Ireland had he pleaded not guilty in court.
It was a query he wasn’t too enamoured about. “That’s a tough question,” he responded. “Like I said before, I’m here now, I can’t dwell too much on what-ifs. It’s just sort of, for me, moving forward, about how I carry myself and contribute to the team on Saturday.”
That is a contribution which will be viewed with immense interest by the IRFU, given their contract termination unwittingly handed the All Blacks one of the most potent current weapons in Hansen’s arsenal.
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