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'We're going to shock a few teams': Moana Pasifika rookie targets scalp over All Black sibling

By Alex McLeod
Credit: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

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They may be the new kids on the block, but Moana Pasifika aren’t buying into the pre-season scepticism about their chances of succeeding in Super Rugby Pacific.

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In fact, the new expansion franchise could well surprise a fair few teams in their maiden Super Rugby Pacific campaign, which kicks-off when Moana Pasifika host the Blues in a season-opening cross-town derby at Mt Smart Stadium on February 18.

That’s according to rookie playmaker William Havili, the 23-year-old utility back who is one of 20 Moana Pasifika players yet to make their Super Rugby debuts.

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Such vast inexperience within a squad of 38 players is part of the reason why pundits and bookmakers have Moana Pasifika at long odds to challenge Super Rugby Pacific’s more established sides over the coming months.

That much is reflected by their $31 odds to win the title at the first time of asking, an unlikely feat that is made that much more difficult by the fact that Moana Pasifika’s first eight matches of the season are all against Kiwi opposition.

Nevertheless, Havili was full of optimism while speaking to RugbyPass about his side’s hopes of upsetting the apple cart throughout the course of the campaign.

“We’re looking to make the play-offs, of course,” Havili said. “We don’t want to be easy-beats. We’re obviously putting our hand up. We’re not here just to get walked all over, so I reckon we’re going to shock a few teams this year.”

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With eight of Super Rugby Pacific’s 12 teams in line to make the competition’s play-offs, the door remains very much open for Moana Pasifika to clinch a quarter-final berth.

All five of the New Zealand teams will be expected to qualify, as will Australia’s top two sides, the Reds and Brumbies, leaving Moana Pasifika in a probable battle for eighth spot with the Waratahs, Western Force, Melbourne Rebels and Fijian Drua.

Victories against Australia’s cellar-dwellers and the Drua, the other new team in Super Rugby Pacific, will be pinpointed as essential for Moana Pasifika, but Havili has his sights set on winning a more personal battle.

As the younger brother of All Blacks utility back David Havili, William has circled Moana Pasifika’s home clash with the Crusaders on April 4 as one of the more significant fixtures on this season’s calendar.

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“That’s probably be a dream come true, to be honest,” Havili told RugbyPass about the prospect of squaring off against David, the 15-test All Black who has won five titles with the Crusaders since 2017.

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“Hoping that he’s playing and I’ll be playing. It would probably be massive for the family. I know my dad and my mum would be proud of that. All the family would come up for that.

“It just hit home, really, all those backyard days. We’ve had different sort of paths to get to where we are, but he’s doing well for himself and I’m just trying to find my own road, make my own name for myself, but that would be a special moment.

“I’ll try get a bit of niggle on the field, get him back for all those days in the backyard.”

Havili’s comments echo the sentiments of teammate and fellow rookie Sam Moli, who told RugbyPass of his eagerness to get one over his brother and All Blacks prop Atu when Moana Pasifika face the Chiefs on February 25 and April 15.

In order for Havili to realise his dream of facing off against his own sibling, though, he must first break into Moana Pasifika’s starting lineup.

Capable of playing both first-five and fullback, Havili said he prefers the No 10 jersey, a position where he will face stiff competition from ex-Wallabies pivot Christian Lealiifano and emerging youngster Lincoln McClutchie for game time.

Waikato’s NPC title-winning first-five D’Angelo Leuila has also been called into the side as injury cover, leaving Havili with a mountain to climb to earn selection for his side’s clash against the Crusaders.

After making his first-class debut in a one-off appearance off the bench for Tasman back in 2018, Havili had to wait until last year to make his next NPC outing for the Mako.

Even then, he only featured in four matches – all of which he either started at fullback or came off the bench – making him the least experienced of Moana Pasifika’s four first-fives.

That, however, doesn’t worry Havili as he remains intent on picking up as much knowledge as he can from his peers as he continues his development as a Super Rugby Pacific player.

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“That’s good competition there. Lincs [McClutchie] is a good man as well,” Havili said.

“Getting to know him over the past week’s been good, just build those connections through the season with me, Lincs, Nu [Lealiifano] and D’Angelo. He [Leuila] is in as injury cover, so us four have been working together quite nicely.”

Havili added that the knowledge Lealiifano, the 26-test international who revived his Wallabies career following a leukaemia diagnosis in 2016, has imparted on the playing group as been highly beneficial for youngster like himself.

“Christian’s real good. He’s real open, he’s real easy to approach and he’s helped me on my game so much since I’ve been here for the last week,” Havili said of Lealiifano, who made 150 appearances for the Brumbies between 2009 and 2019.

“He’s just easy to approach. As a young guy, it helps me and gives me all the confidence that I can just go out and play my own game.”

With such a strong support system around him, and a healthy sense of positivity about his side’s fortunes this year, Havili has every chance of featuring against his brother at Mt Smart Stadium in three-and-a-half months’ time.

Even if that opportunity doesn’t arise, the youngster won’t be overly dismayed as he opens the first chapter of his career as a fully-professional rugby player.

“Personally, I’m just looking to get minutes under my belt, and just learn and grow as a player,” Havili told RugbyPass.

“Personal growth for me, being a first-year Super Rugby player, I want to get as much out of it as I can this year. Of course I want game time, but if that doesn’t come, I’m happy to do my part for the team and be with the other guys.”

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