Sevu Reece: 'I was probably about this close to playing for Fiji'
Speaking to media on Tuesday ahead of his side’s clash against Fiji in Dunedin this weekend, Reece said it was a dream of his to represent his homeland while growing up in the Pacific Island nation.
“Growing up in Fiji, watching sevens and XVs and that was obviously a goal, just like any other New Zealand kid, you grow up wanting to be an All Black,” he said.
“For me, growing up you obviously wanted to play for Fiji and it’s not until you actually get out of Fiji and you start to grow a bit older, I watched the All Blacks and watched Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, all those guys, and you’re like, ‘Man, I want to be that one day’.”
Reece inevitably followed in the footsteps of the likes of Rokocoko and Sivivatu when Sir Steve Hansen called him into the All Blacks squad for the first time ahead of the World Cup two years ago.
That call-up came on the back of a sensational debut campaign for the Crusaders as Reece finished as the competition’s top try-scorer to help propel the Christchurch-based franchise to a third straight title.
It wasn’t only Hansen who took note of Reece’s exploits, though, as John McKee, Fiji’s head coach at the time, reached out to the 24-year-old about the possibility of representing his homeland at that year’s World Cup in Japan.
“When I moved over to New Zealand I was ineligible to play,” Reece, who moved to New Zealand as a schoolboy in 2014, said.
“Fiji came along and obviously, the head coach from Fiji, he was messaging me just before the World Cup and I was in a position where I didn’t know if I was going to make the All Blacks.
“He gave me a call, was going to catch up with him, but we were just texting and to be fair. I was probably about this close to playing for Fiji because the talent we’ve got here in New Zealand is crazy.”
The decision to throw his lot in with Fiji never eventuated, though, and the rest, as they say, is history as Reece went on to play seven tests for the All Blacks that year, including four at the World Cup.
“It was a very tough decision,” he added. “Because I’m only 24 and I’ve got a plan, I could wait a few more years and just put the hard work in and hopefully crack the All Blacks, but, yeah, it happened a lot faster for me.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 5, 2021
A further test appearance last year brings his total tally of international appearances to eight matches, and a ninth outing against his nation of birth could be in the offing on Saturday.
“It’s going to be almost a dream come true if I get the opportunity to play on Saturday and play against some very close mates of mine that I grew up playing with,” Reece said of squaring off against Fiji at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Despite harbouring a dream to represent Fiji as a youngster, Reece’s commitment to the All Blacks means it’s highly unlikely he will play for the Flying Fijians.
Under current World Rugby eligibility laws, Reece would have to stand down from test rugby for three years and then play sevens for Fiji at the Olympics or in an Olympic qualifying event to be eligible to represent the country at test level.
Such tight eligibility laws have come under scrutiny in recent days following the All Blacks’ 102-0 routing of a vastly understrength Tongan team at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland last weekend.
“NZR thought they could get a piece of that. They reckoned those same people could be conned into coming to a rugby league ground to watch rugby.”
– Hamish Bidwell on the fallout from the All Blacks-Tonga test. https://t.co/0rkztQPcs2
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 5, 2021
In the wake of that result, much has been made of whether eligibility laws should be loosened to allow former test internationals, primarily ex-All Blacks and Wallabies, of Pasifika heritage to play for the Island nations after having already played for a tier one nation.
Relaxing such laws could allow Reece to realise his childhood dream of playing for Fiji later on in his career, but the man in question refused to be drawn in on the matter.
“I’m probably not too sure on that,” he said when asked for his thoughts on World Rugby’s eligibility laws. “For me, it’s just trying to be in here [the All Blacks] for as long as possible and whatever happens after that, happens.”
He did, however, advocate for the inclusion of a Fijian-based Super Rugby franchise, with the Fijian Drua set to join Moana Pasifika in a revamped version of the competition from next season onwards.
“That’s pretty exciting. Even me, I’m actually excited to see the impact they can have on the whole Super Rugby comp and just the style of rugby they bring, that could almost change this whole Super Rugby as well,” he said.
“Fiji are talented boys and the rugby they play is exciting to watch, as we can see in sevens, and they bring that over to XVs. It’s obviously hopeful.”
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