'Very proud': Moana Pasifika captain's message to teammates after heavy Chiefs loss
The Super Rugby Pacific expansion side were dealt a hefty 61-7 defeat by the Chiefs in their first pre-season match of the year – which was only the franchise’s second-ever fixture – at Mt Smart Stadium.
The gulf in experience between the two sides was reflected by the scoreline, which began to blow out midway through the match when the visitors fielded an almost entirely new lineup.
Of those players who entered the fray from the reserves bench, Josh Ioane, Pita Gus Sowakula, Chase Tiatia, Emoni Narawa and Jonah Lowe were among those to standout and help propel the Chiefs to a comprehensive victory.
Filled with players who were taking part in their first match at Super Rugby level, Moana Pasifika struggled to keep up with their opposites as set-piece errors and wavering consistency plagued them throughout the course of the match.
That much was widely expected of the new team, as is the case whenever an expansion franchise enters Super Rugby, and Kepu was quick to admit that there is plenty his side need to improve on while speaking to media in the wake of the result.
However, the Wallabies centurion still heaped praise on his teammates, especially those who are inexperienced at this level of the game, for their commitment to the cause in Moana Pasifika’s debut match as a Super Rugby outfit.
“Obviously a lot of disappointment, but telling them that to hold their heads high because this the first time for us to run out and play at that level,” Kepu said.
“It’s a special day, and it’s something to be proud of. Obviously the result didn’t go our way, but, for a lot of those young guys, this was an opportunity for them to experience that level of Super Rugby, and some of those guys put their hands up tonight.
“Very proud of the boys. We’ll look at the little things that we did at the set-piece, a couple of maul tries, those kind of things. We’ll look back and go and have a look at the footage and look to fix those [things].
“I’m not saying they’re easy fixes, but definitely areas that we can brush up on going into next week.”
Moana Pasifika first-five Christian Lealiifano echoed the sentiments of his ex-Wallabies teammate, but highlighted the difficulty of bringing together players of various rugby backgrounds with the aim of succeeding against high-level opponents.
“When you get a hit out like that against a quality opposition, you see the reality of it, so it’s about going away day-to-day and really cleaning up where you need to be better,” Lealiifano said.
“We’ll try and fix that as we go. It’s quite difficult at the moment with different levels of learning, so we’ve all got to try and get on the same page and try and drive together.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a waiting game and a little bit of patience, but we’ve got some fantastic people in place. Our head coach and his support staff has been have been fantastic and we’re really enjoying working with them.
“I guess we’re in really good hands to help drive this team forward.”
Kepu added that the ability to harness the emotion and passion that has engulfed the Moana Pasifika squad through their strong cultural ties will be important for their chances of success and improvement.
“There is a lot of cultural emotion and everything that’s happened this week, but it’s learning to channel that. As we spoke about before the game, it’s an emotion keeping that within you, but also that ice-cool head,” he said.
“If we can marry the two together in a good mix, that we’re not getting too carried away with emotions that you not know your job when we roll in there, then that can sort of hinder and blind you.
“But, if we can do them both nicely, then I can tell you the team culture and morale is unbelievable, so now it’s just about getting those guys to hit the two together.”
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