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'Proper athlete': Wasps' first impression of All Black Vaea Fifita

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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Jimmy Gopperth has hailed the immediate impact that former All Blacks forward Vaea Fifita has made at Wasps pre-season training since his recent arrival in England. The 29-year-old Tongan-born but New Zealand-schooled player was unveiled as a Premiership club signing on June 30. Last capped by the All Blacks in July 2019, the flexible forward – he can play at back row and lock – has pitched up in Coventry ahead of the new 2021/22 English league season and has already had some eye-catching moments on the new Wasps training ground at Henley-in-Arden.


Having won the 2016 Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes alongside current Wasps duo Brad Shields and Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Fifita has immediately got stuck into the way of life in the English Midlands and the question now is how quickly his new teammates can get up to speed with his game-breaking style of play. 

Vaea is an athlete, a proper athlete. Big, strong, powerful, fast. He is very good with the ball in hand. He is very tall so his off-loading game is really, really special. It’s a case of when he has got the ball something is going to happen, so the guys are just trying to read him and getting on his opportunities so he can create,” enthused Gopperth. 

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The strong culture that binds together the Black Ferns
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The strong culture that binds together the Black Ferns

“He is going to add another dimension to our ball carrying and defensively he has already put a few good shots in during training. He fits our mould really well as being physical but yet very sort of very agile, you can play him on the edges or you can play him in the middle. But from what everyone has seen of him so far he is an All Black and you can see why.”

The veteran back Gopperth turned 38 in June and while age isn’t on his side in a career where his latest contract extension will only take him through to the end of next season, his longevity at the club did produce one perk – first dibs at claiming a place in the new Wasps training ground dressing room as the divvy-up was decided on the length of service.

“We were very sure about how it worked,” he said, explaining the process of how upwards of 50 places in the locker room were allocated. “The guys who have been here the longest and got the most caps, we ranked them in order in blocks. The most experienced guys, the guys who have been waiting for the longest for this (new training ground) to happen, got first dibs and then we just went with how many caps you have for Wasps.


“Fortunately, I was in the first group so all the older guys took the corner spots but there is not a bad seat in the house. It’s just nice to have everyone involved in the one changing room.”


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