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Salesi Rayasi went from high school basketball star to 50 Hurricanes' caps

By Adam Julian
Salesi Rayasi of the Hurricanes reacts during the round 15 Super Rugby Pacific match between Hurricanes and Highlanders at Sky Stadium, on June 01, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Salesi Rayasi is a prodigious talent.

One Friday night at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream in 2014 he scored 38 points for the Premier basketball team in a rousing upset of Wellington College. The next day he scored four tries for the First XV when they beat National champions Scots College 28-26.


In the NPC for Auckland, he has scored an impressive 40 tries in 52 games and was nominated for NPC Player of the Year in 2020. He finished that season with a competition-leading 14 tries in nine matches.

Rayasi scored a hat-trick in his 50th game for the Hurricanes against the Highlanders. The Hurricanes won 41-14 to record their 27th victory in 42 outings against the Southerners.

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Rayasi is the 63rd player to appear in 50 matches for the Hurricanes. He made his debut against the Chiefs at Wellington in 2019, and scored a try in a 47-19 win. Of his 50 matches, he has started in 31 of them and been a substitute 19 times. He has won 32 times.

Rayasi’s hat-trick is the second time he has scored three in a match. In 2022 he scored three tries in the Hurricanes memorable 33-32 win over the Blues in Dunedin.

The Hurricanes were down 32-14 with ten minutes remaining and won with a last play try to Ardie Savea storming 40m down the right wing. The Blues won a franchise record 15 in a row after that setback.

Rayasi has scored two tries in a match on seven other occasions, including a pair against the Highlanders in a 29-14 win in 2023. He has scored 30 tries in total for the Hurricanes, including eight this season.


After spending much of 2024 on the bench, Rayasi has earnt a start for the Hurricanes Super Rugby Pacific quarter-final against the Melbourne Rebels.

“Fifty games is a huge achievement for me. Any chance to start is a privilege,” Rayasi told RugbyPass.

“The Chiefs win a couple of weeks ago and a win against the Lions in 2019 are my standout games. We hardly ever beat the Chiefs in Hamilton, and to win the way we did in front of a sellout up there was epic.

“In 2019 against the Lions, Beauden Barrett got sick the day of the match after we’d already lost three players, it was crazy.


“In Johannesburg, we pumped them 37-17. Ben Lam and Dane Coles got two tries. The boys showed huge character. The Lions had been in the last two finals.”

The Hurricanes are hoping to make their fourth Super Rugby final. Winning 12 out of 14 matches to top the regular season table has given them a strong chance. The Hurricanes have won 107 of 152 matches (70%) at Sky Stadium, including eight in a row.

“A big home crowd does help. You gain energy and momentum from their turnout,” Rayasi said.

“At Sky Stadium the wind has a mind of its own. Understanding how to use that wind can influence the outcome and because we play there more often than anyone that’s an advantage too.

“Most of the boys didn’t expect to finish first when the Blues were leading the Chiefs 31-7.

“I was in the car with Brayden Iose when Josh Ioane scored that last try to deny the Blues a bonus point. We had to pull over. The group chat lit up.

“I played with Josh Ioane one time. He’s a good man, a character with a sense of humour, I owe him a beer.”

Rayasi scored two tries for the Hurricanes in their 54-26 win over the Rebels in Palmerston North on 22 March.

Despite that noteworthy display he’s only played 403 minutes this season. Rival wingers Kini Naholo (823 minutes) and Josh Moorby (881 minutes) have spent double the time on the field.

“The competition between the outside backs has been huge. Josh and Kini have been outstanding and then there’s Ruben Love. When Daniel Sinkinson’s played, he’s been great, Harry Godfrey has had his moments.

“I first had Clark Laidlaw as a coach in the All Blacks Sevens in 2018. I owe the start of my professional career to him.

“Clark develops an environment where there is a strong sense of connection between each player. We compete hard but want the best for each other. Owning your performance and being accountable creates a healthy edge and responsibility.”

The Hurricanes have won 11 of their 12 matches against the Rebels.

Interestingly, against the Highlanders Tevita Mafileo also played his 50th Super Rugby match. He debuted for the Chiefs in 2019 playing seven matches for them before transferring to the Hurricanes in 2020. This was his 43rd match for his new franchise. He has scored one try in his career, for the Hurricanes. There are four instances of two Hurricanes playing their 50th match together.

2010: John Schwalger & Conrad Smith v Force at Wellington in 2010, 47-22
2013: Dane Coles & Victor Vito v Crusaders at Wellington, 29-28
2014: James Broadhurst & Julian Savea v Waratahs at Sydney, 30-39
2019: Vaea Fifita & Ricky Riccitelli v Highlanders at Dunedin, 31-28

Credit: Peter Marriott

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV


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