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Mo’unga’s nephew: The ‘overlooked’ Kiwi prospect turning heads with Fijian Drua

By Finn Morton
Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula of Fijian Drua kicks the ball under pressure from Ryan Louwrens of the Rebels during the Super Rugby Pacific Pre-Season Match between Melbourne Rebels and Fijian Drua at Gosch's Paddock on February 16, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Dan Carter is almost unanimously considered one of the greatest rugby players of all time. While the likes of Jonah Lomu, Richie McCaw, Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O’Driscoll are also part of that discussion, there was no player quite like Dan Carter.

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Carter won two Rugby World Cup titles with New Zealand. Of course, the flyhalf was injured at a training session before a pool stage match against Canada in 2011 but the All Blacks great had his moment in the spotlight four years later at Twickenham.

The All Blacks were a different team with Carter among their ranks.

But, for all the trophies that Carter won for both club and country, one man has gone above and beyond even that level of greatness at the Crusaders. That ‘one man’ is none other than former All Black Richie Mo’unga.

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Mo’unga, who has played at two Rugby World Cups, was the glue to the Crusaders’ unmatched dynasty in Super Rugby. Following in the footsteps of Andrew Mehrtens and Carter, Mo’unga stood tall and forged his own legacy with seven titles in as many years.

But this isn’t a story about Dan Carter, nor is this a desperate plea for Scott Robertson and New Zealand Rugby to get Richie Mo’unga back to Aotearoa. This passage is about the exciting potential of Mo’unga’s nephew Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula.

Similar to how Mo’unga followed in Carter’s footsteps, Armstrong-Ravula will now do the same, albeit not for the Crusaders. Armstrong-Ravula is Mo’unga’s nephew, and while comparisons can be made, the young first five just wants “to be me.”

“Everyone talks about it but that’s family, that’s my uncle. I see him at family gatherings, birthday celebrations,” Armstrong-Ravula told RugbyPass in an exclusive interview.

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“We always just catch up like normal people do with their uncles.

“It’s pretty cool that he’s reached this far and he’s a legend of the game already… and obviously being in the same position as well, we’ve got a few more little cousins that are No. 10s too so it’s pretty crazy.

“To see him pave the way for us and a lot of Pacific Island people, it’s something pretty crazy that he is family and that we can follow in his footsteps but do it our own way.”

Armstrong-Ravula almost went in a completely different direction to his uncle. The New Zealand-born rugby talent grew up in Ipswich, which is not too far away from Brisbane, Australia.

For those of you reading this who have been to ‘Ippy’ you can attest to the fact that they love their rugby league. It’s no surprise then that Armstrong-Ravula initially pursued the 13-player game, and the playmaker would still like to jump codes down the track.

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Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula Super Rugby Pacific
Finn Morton spoke with Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula about playing for Fiji at the World Rugby U20 Championship 2023. (Photo by Getty Images)

But the youngster’s Kiwi family told him time and time again to give rugby union a go.

Eventually, he did.

Armstrong-Ravula was later picked in one of two Queensland U16s sides for the 2019 Junior Rugby Championship. For context, future Super Rugby players Mason Gordon, Taj Annan and David Vaihu were picked in the other side known as ‘Queensland U16s Maroon.’

Armstrong-Ravula later moved across the ditch to Christchurch along with his younger brother. The pair moved into the boarding house at St Andrew’s College, which was tough, as they had to say goodbye to their parents and sister who remained in Australia.

“It was hard, especially in Covid as well – it was the big Covid year so we didn’t see our parents for a year or a year and a half. That was really hard but it’s all worked out,” Armstrong-Ravula said as he reflected on the move as a 16-year-old in 2020.

“My parents always said to always give everything 100 per cent, give it a crack.

“It didn’t help with Covid. I wasn’t having the best year, my first year in New Zealand. It was pretty special once I saw them again later in 2021.

“They actually surprised us. They told me, ‘Oh our WIFI is down tomorrow, you won’t hear from us.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s random.’ Then they just said go to the car park or something, we’d just finished boarding dinner (or) a bit of study… then we just met up.

“It was out the front of our school and there were a lot of tears, a lot of smiles but it was pretty cool seeing them.”

Sacrifice. That was one word that really stood out during this interview as Armstrong-Ravula looked back on the move across the Tasman Sea.

But it all paid off in the end.

Armstrong-Ravula was “overlooked” by the New Zealand U20s. The Hurricanes’ Harry Godfrey, Crusaders pivot Taha Kemara and Highlanders first five Ajay Faleafaga were picked instead.

But the future Drua star still ended up going to the World Rugby U20 Championship in South Africa with Fiji.

The flyhalf starred in all four matches against Australia, England, Ireland and Italy and was rewarded with a selection in the team of the tournament.

Baby Blacks winger Macca Springer, Junior Springboks lock JF van Heerden and France’s Nicolas Depoortere were among the other players who impressed.

“Me and my brother, we’d always watched Fiji. We’d always be like, ‘Man, imagine if we were there.’ But then when it came about I missed out on the New Zealand (under) 20s, which was the goal, and then me and my mate we both went over,” he explained.

“I was just doing it to play more footy. Obviously, it’s cool to represent your country, go to South Africa, play rugby and travel. That’s what you want to do as a kid as well.

“It was pretty cool. I enjoyed it, I loved it so much. Just the experience and being in the team.

“To be honest, I’ve been overlooked a lot of times in my life, especially in rugby. I just wanted to enjoy it as much as I could, enjoy the experience.

“It’s a one-in-a-lifetime, you’ll never be going to another U20 World Cup really. I just wanted to enjoy it.

“Being with the Fijian boys as well, it was so much fun. Obviously, learning the culture more… and playing the game that you love, I had a blast.”

Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula Super Rugby Pacific
Finn Morton spoke with Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula about his rookie Super rugby pacific season with the Fijian Drua. (Photo by Janelle St Pierre/Getty Images)

The former Ipswich State High School and St. Andrews College pupil was picked up by Manawatu and has gone on to start a few games in the green and white strip.

Armstrong-Ravula debuted in the NPC against Taranaki last year off the bench and was later handed his first-ever start at senior level in a win away to Auckland. The New Zealander started another two games that season against Hawke’s Bay and Counties Manukau.

But away from the watchful eyes of fans on game day, the young flyhalf has learnt a lot from one-Test All Black Brett Cameron. World Cup-winner Nehe Milner-Skudder, Hurricanes backrower Brayden Iose, former All Blacks Sevens star Beaudein Waaka were also in the squad.

“My last year of school in 2021, the Manawatu Academy approached me and my family and it was kind of the only offer I got really so I was looking into it.

“Seeing the quality players that have come out of that area and province like Aaron Cruden, Otere Black. You see those names and then obviously I was like, ‘Man, I want to do that too.’

“We went and had a visit up in Palmerston North and my parents they loved it and I loved the boys there, they were so welcoming.

“It was something different. I don’t think a lot of people would’ve guessed where I would’ve been… I’ve always liked being different too.

“It was as a new challenge and I’m just grateful that the opportunity came about.”

With 11 games of Super Rugby Pacific under his belt, there’s a lot to like about Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula as a developing rugby prospect. He kicked a clutch 82nd minute penalty goal to deny the Queensland Reds a losing bonus point in Suva last time out.

But even when you’re playing well at that level, it’s hard not to get a bit starstruck. Whether it’s Damian McKenzie, Rieko Ioane or any other All Black, the playmaker will always be that kid with a rugby dream at the end of the day.

“It’s pretty crazy. Even after the games now I’m still asking the boys for a photo and stuff, and telling them how big of a fan I am.

“But definitely those two… all the All Blacks really. Even players in the northern hemisphere it’s pretty crazy to even share the same field with them.”

Eligible for New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Samoa and of course Fiji, it’ll be very interesting to see where the youngster takes his career.

But don’t expect him to be the next Richie Mo’unga or Dan Carter, this is about Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula being Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula.

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Comments

3 Comments
B
Blive 31 days ago

thats spice to selectors… love it when selectors are proven wrong

J
Jacinda 32 days ago

Razor will be watching him

J
Jon 32 days ago

Clutch alright. Crazy spirit this guy aye, whats that like 6 teams in the one article he’s played for, love it!

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Mzilikazi 37 minutes ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Very good article, Nic, and I find agreement with what you write virtually 100%. I think this two mach series has increasingly become one which will be very difficult for Ireland to win. After the first game of the last 6N, I would have been very full of confidence taking on the Boks in SA. France beaten by a big margin in France, it looked as if Ireland had emerged in fine form from the World Cup, despite the very narrow loss to the AB’s. But after that game, a slide began, ending with the defeat to England. Ireland were very fortunate to win this years 6N ! And as you so fully expose, this has not been a good season for Leinster, or indeed, in my view, for any Irish province. The Leinster loos to the Bulls, and then Munster letting a glorious chance slip to the Glasgow Warriors down at Thomond. Man, that one will really hurt. And both Connacht and Ulster have at times looked very poor this seaso, bith heavily beaten on occassion. The loss of both Gibson Park and Keenan are huge blows, especially Gibson Park. And there is really only one clear class 10 in the touring party, Jack Crowley, and he is still a very young player learning his trade. If he goes down, heaven help Ireland. And in my view, Ireland do not have a good scrummaging front row, SA do, and in great depth too. But despite all this doom and gloom, I always believe my team can win. Not that they will win, just can ! Ireland will still field what is the best and most talented team overall that I have seen in my lifetime. But the coaching group will really have to step up, no awful decisions like the one made against the AB’s in the QF….keeping the totally spent and poorly performing(on the day) Sexton on for the full 80mins, leaving Crowley on the sidelines. Ireland should never have lost that game !

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S
Shaylen 3 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Ireland have all the tools required to hurt SA. They develop quick ball, hold onto the ball for long periods, stretch the game when its on, have powerful mobile forwards, a good kicking game and they can hold their own in the scrum. They also can force turnovers regularly and in general do well at the breakdown. When Munster, the Ospreys and Glasgow all won games in SA this year against the Bulls and Stormers they did just that and won. It is also the reason why Ireland won the game at the world cup last year. The problem for Ireland is that SA have all the tools required to hurt them as well and hurt them a great deal more than England did in the Six Nations. They are physical and powerful at the set piece, they rush up and counter the Irish attacking system and they can really attack the breakdown and slow your ball down. Their counterattacking threat is also a big weapon and they score many tries from turnover turning defence into offence in a second. Toulouse and the Bulls nailed Leinster in this way and Glasgow did the same thing to Munster. So the series will be really interesting because both sides are so good at countering each other. Interested to see what kind of surprises Tony Brown springs and how the SA game develops. Feel like SA have more potential to surprise Ireland but then a new coaching set up as well as the fact that Japanese and foreign based players tend to take about 5 to 6 weeks to get up to speed might work in Irelands favour. SA have shipped at least one game in 4 of the last 5 June/July test windows going back to 2018 for this exact reason.

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F
Flankly 5 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

The comments were reported weirdly. De Allende did say it would be war, but he said it amidst comments like “Ireland play such good footy”, and “they are so good at the breakdown”. He said that the Boks lost heavily to Ireland a few years back and that they felt the Irish press was dismissive of the Boks. I don’t recall that, but I suppose it is true, and that SA players would want to turn around that sentiment. The RWC loss to Ireland would naturally pour fuel on the fire. In short, it is a natural thing for passionate players like him to feel very strongly about the goal of registering a convincing series win against Ireland. There is really nothing to see here. As an aside, the SA team shouldn’t be too self-righteous about this kind of a situation. Recall that in 2004, after SA won the Ireland series in SA, Jake White noted that no more than two Irish players were good enough for selection in his Bok side. "Considering the facts, I think only two of their players would be included in the Bok team - O'Driscoll (centre) and maybe one of the locks. How could we have lost against the Irish?" O’Driscoll disagreed and said that it was close, and Ireland were just tired. My Irish friends were pretty incensed by the comments, quite rightly. And I am sure it was part of the energy that drove them to some famous wins against the Boks. The Etzebeth thing was a little different. I think he was just not hearing what was being said. It is not that unusual for someone to say “We will see you in the final”. Of course it is a statement of confidence, which every team should have, but it is also a compliment. I think there was a cultural fly-by, in which a “see you soon” comment was taken to mean “we will beat you again”. But it was a good story, and a convenient clickbaity headline. I don’t think anyone is intentionally trying to rile up anything. But if you interview a Bok player and prod them about their passion wrt the Ireland tour, you are likely to hear some pretty heartfelt words. And so you should.

21 Go to comments
FEATURE
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