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'We've had about a million challenges already': Moana Pasifika primed for shift

By Tom Vinicombe
Aaron Mauger. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

This weekend, the six New Zealand-based Super Rugby sides are set to shift to Queenstown ahead of the 2022 season’s kick-off to mitigate the potential impact of Covid-19.

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That means the players, coaches and management for all six teams – as well as the competition’s various support staff – will be expected to function at least for the next few months without being able to regularly spend time with their friends and family.

Some of those affected will already have some experience in spending time away from their loved ones.

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Behind the scenes with Italy v the All Blacks.
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Behind the scenes with Italy v the All Blacks.

The All Blacks spent the bulk of the second half of 2021 playing outside of NZ and from late July until late November, they were effectively operating in a team-wide bubble. The triumphant Waikato NPC squad also had to relocate last year during the latter half of the season after Hamilton went into lockdown.

That won’t necessarily make those players’ lives any easier, however, given that they’ve only really been able to spend a small amount of time with their friends and family since returning home.

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One way or another, the coming few months will be a challenge for all and sundry but Aaron Mauger, head coach of the newly formed Moana Pasifika team, believes his side may have a small advantage over their opposition.

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“I think we’ll do this better than anyone else, to be fair, just based on … our connections as a family,” Mauger said on Wednesday. “It’s what this team is all about, so it’ll have its challenges, but I know that we’ll embrace those challenges and get on and make a new home, wherever that is, and look forward to the competition.

“We’ve had about a million challenges already, just to get to this point, so this is another one for us.”

While the other Super Rugby sides have arguably had to actively build their own identities, Moana Pasifika have entered the season with pre-existing connections courtesy of the players’ shared heritage.

Although staying strong as a group might not be difficult for the team, being away from family could also prove a more sizeable challenge for the squad.

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“That will be our biggest challenge, knowing how tightly-connected our boys are to home and their families,” Mauger said. “We’ve got young dads leaving their young wives behind and first-time babies. We’ve just had a couple of recent babies in the last few weeks as well, so that’ll be tough.”

Mauger did confirm that management will be ensuring players are able to regularly connect with their families back home, even if they’re not able to see them in person for an extended period.

“We’ve got a great team around us in the backroom staff, who are putting some wrap-around support around our families staying here. We’ll connect, we’ll have our lotu on Sundays, and during the week as well, where our families will be online joining us, so all those plans are in place where we can stay connected.

“[It’s] tough when it’s not physical, but [it’s the] next best thing, online.”

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The NZ Super Rugby sides also face the prospect of having to shift to Australia following the completion of the derby portion of the season, but Mauger admits he’s given that little thought in recent times.

“There’s so many things being thrown at me, to be fair, over the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“We’re really focused on this week for a start. We know we’ve been moving to Queenstown for four or five weeks, and we’ve put plans around there, so we won’t worry about Australia until that sort of information might be confirmed until later on down the track.”

Moana Pasifika officially kick off their season against the Blues on February 18 but will face off with the Chiefs in a pre-season clash this Friday.

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