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The unlikely All Black Sevens debutant named after a famous South African cricketer

By Adam Julian
New Zealand poses for a photo with the trophy after winning the men's final match during the Hong Kong Sevens at Hong Kong Stadium on April 2, 2023 in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Stephen Law/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Rhodes Featherstone described sevens as a “marathon with contact,” an apt description of the pathway taken by the prop to the All Blacks Sevens team.

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The 26-year-old featured in recent New Zealand World Series successes in Hong Kong and Singapore, an unlikely triumph for a player who only appeared twice for the St Pats Town First XV in 2014 and has battled injury and size issues.

“It’s pretty unbelievable to have played Hong Kong. It’s a pinnacle event in terms of the history behind it so to get the opportunity to wear the black jersey there was surreal,” Featherstone said.

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“My debut was against Kenya. I got a good couple of minutes. The boys were hissing and playing bloody good code. I tested the shoulder out and made a couple of good tackles.”

New Zealand won the tournament for the first time since 2014 beating Fiji beating 24-17 in the Cup final.

They led by 17 points at halftime a remarkable effort given Andrew Knewstubb, Moses Leo, Payton Spencer, Roderick Solo, Sam Dickson, Scott Curry, Tim Mikkelson, Tone Ng Shiu, Joe Webber, and Regan Ware were all unavailable because of injuries or personal reasons.

Things got even better for Featherstone a week later in Singapore. Tries from Dylan Collier, Moses Leo, and Brady Rush earned New Zealand a 19-12 victory over Argentina in the Cup Final to claim their fourth title of the 2022-23 World Series season.

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“I started against Hong Kong and was absolutely blown. The stadium was open at one end which meant the heat and humidity hit you. I got to play against Great Britain and South Africa too which was pretty interesting with a South African family,” Featherstone said.

Rhodes was named after the South African cricket champion Jonty Rhodes.

After studying at Massey University in Palmerston North, Featherstone returned to a farm in his native Taranaki.

In the summer of 2018, he represented Taranaki “70kg dripping wet” in regional Sevens tournaments.

He repeated the feat a year later when he was encouraged by coach and former All Blacks Sevens representative Willie Rickards “to get in the gym.”

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Hard work paid off and in 2020 he was an unlikely debutant for Taranaki in the NPC. Though beaten 59-23 by Hawke’s Bay in a Championship semi-final, Featherstone had put on nearly 20kg.

In 2021 his club Inglewood, where Featherstone is Rugby Development Officer, won the Taranaki senior championship having only won a solitary game the previous season. The same year he was contracted to the All Blacks Sevens training at their base in Mount Maunganui.

Rhodes Featherstone described sevens as a “marathon with contact,” an apt description of the pathway taken by the prop to the All Blacks sevens team.

The 26-year-old featured in recent New Zealand World Series successes in Hong Kong and Singapore, an unlikely triumph for a player who only appeared twice for the St Pats Town First XV in 2014 and has battled injury and size issues.

“It’s pretty unbelievable to have played Hong Kong. It’s a pinnacle event in terms of the history behind it so to get the opportunity to wear the black jersey there was surreal,” Featherstone said.

“My debut was against Kenya. I got a good couple of minutes. The boys were hissing and playing bloody good code. I tested the shoulder out and made a couple of good tackles.”

New Zealand won the tournament for the first time since 2014 beating Fiji beating 24-17 in the Cup final. They led by 17 points at halftime a remarkable effort given Andrew Knewstubb, Moses Leo, Payton Spencer, Roderick Solo, Sam Dickson, Scott Curry, Tim Mikkelson, Tone Ng Shiu, Joe Webber, and Regan Ware were all unavailable because of injuries or personal reasons.

Things got even better for Featherstone a week later in Singapore.  Tries from Dylan Collier, Moses Leo, and Brady Rush earned New Zealand a 19-12 victory over Argentina in the Cup Final to claim their fourth title of the 2022-23 World Series season.

“I started against Hong Kong and was absolutely blown. The stadium was open at one end which meant the heat and humidity hit you. I got to play against Great Britain and South Africa too which was pretty interesting with a South African family,” Featherstone said.

Rhodes was named after the South African cricket champion Jonty Rhodes.

After studying at Massey University in Palmerston North, Featherstone returned to a farm in his native Taranaki.

In the summer of 2018, he represented Taranaki “70kg dripping wet” in regional sevens tournaments. He repeated the feat a year later when he was encouraged by coach and former All Blacks Sevens representative Willie Rickards “to get in the gym.”

Hard work paid off and in 2020 he was an unlikely debutant for Taranaki in the NPC. Though beaten 59-23 by Hawke’s Bay in a Championship semi final Featherstone had put on nearly 20kg.

In 2021 his club Inglewood, where Featherstone is Rugby Development Officer, won the Taranaki senior championship having only won a solitary game the previous season. The same year he was contracted to the All Blacks Sevens training at their base in Mount Maunganui.

“Rhodes is maybe a little bit light for the XVs game, but he’s got genuine speed for a forward, he’s athletic and hard working. We see him becoming a genuine Sevens specialist,” coach Laidlaw said in 2022.

That prophecy appears to be coming to fusion. In a fortnight New Zealand will seek to win their 14th World Series title, and first since 2019-20, when they travel to Toulouse and London for the last two legs of the 2022-23 circuit. New Zealand are 24 points ahead of Argentina.

A full interview with Rhodes Featherstone appeared on the Huddy Hui Podcast on Wednesday night.

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