Toulon midfielder and 24 Test All Black Malakai Fekitoa has opened up about his experience playing in France.
Fekitoa, now in his second season with the star-studded French side, detailed what he has learned since leaving New Zealand in 2017 and hinted at a return home in an interview with The New Zealand Herald.
“Being at home, you focus too much on rugby, and you’re too hard on yourself most of the time,” Fekitoa told The New Zealand Herald. “That’s what I’ve learned coming here, to enjoy rugby again.
“It’s not just me that has been through that. All the young guys coming through are always trying to be better every day. That’s a great thing but you can lose enjoyment. I get to realise there’s more to life than rugby.
“I feel I’m a lot better because at home, I tried really hard and sometimes things didn’t go my way.
“You go into your shell, you hide, and you go down and down because of your thoughts. It’s the pressure, too.
“Now I’m older, I’ve learned to have a life balance. I just wish I knew what I know now. The way I approach things now is different from before. That’s why I believe I’m better because I’m more comfortable.”
Fekitoa burst onto the international scene in 2014 after a breakout season with the Highlanders, but inconsistent play and an influx of new midfield talent meant he was unable to truly establish himself in the black jersey.
“I have a plan, and in the next few months, it will come out,” Fekitoa said. “I can stay here and play as long as I can, or I return home and take what I’ve learned.”
“As you get older, you grow and get better as a midfielder. Most people wouldn’t believe that but I believe in myself and if I work hard, I know anything is possible.”
Fekitoa reaffirmed that regaining the All Black jersey is still in his line of sight.
“Many people believe I’m out but I’m too young to give up on that. I want to play at the highest level again. I want to put my hand up and get picked,” he said.
“I know I’m not part of the plan now but who knows? If you put in the work, have the right mindset and enjoy your rugby, things will come. Test rugby is still up there, so hopefully I return and be competitive again.”
Just how much Fekitoa has learned and what he is willing to sacrifice to win back the black jersey is evident in the candid interview.
“I’ll just see what team would help my rugby more. The Highlanders in the last four years was really good for me. The way they play the game suits me,” he said.
“I’ve looked back at how I played. I had tunnel vision. I learned new things here about how to run lines and how to give myself time to make decisions.
“I wish I had that when I was at home. I was trying to beat everyone up rather than letting the ball beat the man. Maybe the Highlanders will help but we’ll see what happens. For now, I just have to focus on getting a good start and make sure everyone is happy with me in France before I decide where to go.”
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