West had been on an All Blacks junior team at a South African World Cup, but it was Ranfurly who really stepped up his career eight years ago. Since 1969, the province had never held the symbol of glory which, to this day, still counts so much in New Zealand rugby.
However, with a swoosh in Dunedin – a dummy, a step with the left foot, a surprising acceleration and a pleasant dive – the famine was over and a 21-year-old red-haired Maori child was suddenly the topic of conversation. from the rugby vineyard from Napier to Invercargill and all points in between.
Bay’s glorious reign, hungry for success, was just a lone game as they lost the following week, but they learned quickly and the current streak of nine successful bird gang defenses is the highest of all since their streak of twelve in 2014-15, a time when West was duplicating and making his way into Super Rugby with the Blues.
“I loved playing for the Magpies,” West told RugbyPass following the completion of another day of training with La Rochelle by the Bay of Biscay. “This is where I grew up, the team I loved to watch. My parents always took me to games and it was always a team I wanted to be a part of. Playing several seasons with them, being part of special teams that won trophies, it was great and it’s a team that is really close to my heart.
— Pies de la Baie de Hawke (@Magpies_Unoff) 23 October 2021
“There were forty years when we had not won [the Ranfurly] and bringing him home were a great few days, probably too good as we lost him the following week and were just as disappointed as we were happy the week before. But we were lucky enough to win it the following year and hold it a little longer. The Ranfurly Shield is a special thing for Hawke’s Bay and it’s great that it still has a big place in New Zealand rugby.
Pandemic restrictions have kept the La Rochelle-based West from coming to his home since his last stay in February 2019, but this distance has only made the heart more affectionate. “Like most people in New Zealand, you grab a rugby ball before you can walk. I started playing when I was five at Havelock North Rugby Club there on Saturday mornings.
“You weren’t allowed to wear boots, so every Saturday morning the grass was frozen, frozen, and you would run around with your bare feet frozen and ask your mother, ‘May I put my shoes on? But that’s where it started for me and I’ve been in love with it ever since. “
Along the way, there were exotic Maori All Blacks tours of North America and Japan, as well as that incredible 2017 night in a crowded Eden Park where he led the Blues in their haka before scoring the try. winner for killing Lions while traveling. Its Maori culture remains strong. “It’s very important to me,” he enthuses.
“We grew up around it. My mother is the principal of an all-Maori girls’ school, so she is very involved in Maori culture and advocates for a better life for our people. It is very important in my family and for me too. Being away from home and getting away from it has been difficult, but every time I phone with mum and dad it creeps up on me back then. It’s definitely a big part of my life.
” We [West and wife Dannielle] I haven’t been home since February 2019. It’s been almost three years and it’s tough. Technology makes things a little easier, but yeah, hard not to be able to see the family in person, ”he said before revisiting old rugby memories. “The Maori All Blacks were another great team that I have always wanted to be a part of. We went to some pretty cool places, got to know different cultures and played against international teams. It was great for my development.
“And the Blues, we had a few pretty tough years before this Lions game. Tana (Umaga) brought the haka and being able to do it and then win against the Lions was just amazing. I got in in the last 20 or 30 minutes and the Lions made it difficult for us. Then Steven Luatua and Sonny Bill (Williams) did something pretty special. When Sonny has the ball, you work as hard as you can to get rid of his shoulder. This is what I did and it went well. “
After making the headlines in the rugby world with this decisive game, West switched franchises rather than immediately embarking on a European adventure in La Rochelle. “I went to the Hurricanes this year because we weren’t quite ready to go. It was something different in Wellington, but I wouldn’t change the decision we made (leave New Zealand in 2018). I loved my stay in France.
“Growing up in New Zealand, we don’t really hear much (French rugby) apart from Toulouse or Toulon – we grew up with Jonny Wilkinson – and Clermont. Big clubs are what you really only hear or see on TV in your home. I didn’t really know La Rochelle as a club and a city.
“They came after me before and we had a good conversation. My wife, I and parents talked about it a lot and thought we wanted to stay in New Zealand. halfway around the world and get out of our comfort zone. It was great that La Rochelle was still interested, that she still believed in me to come next season.
“The town is quite similar to Napier and Hastings, similar in size, has a port, has beautiful beaches and good weather. But when we talk about rugby it’s crazy, everyone is behind the team and it shows in the massive crowd we have, the stadium is full and it’s just great to play in front of it.
“It’s something that we don’t really realize at home in New Zealand. You don’t have crowds clapping for 80 minutes and filling up every week. It’s definitely something that I love being here in La Rochelle. I could probably be further ahead than where I am (speaking French). I am a little lazy at times, but I understand most of what is being said and can do just as well in meetings as in the field.
The end of last season, however, left West speechless as La Rochelle was beaten in both the Champions Cup and Top 14 final by Toulouse and his kicks featured heavily in the autopsy. He hasn’t had much of a chance to exorcise his demons as a soft tissue injury means Sunday night’s home clash against Toulon is just his second appearance this season.
“These are the most frustrating. After about a week you can pretty much do anything, but the kicks weren’t good. It was the main thing. I could run and do all that, but it was just the movement of the kicks that weighed me down and held me back. I’ve had it before but not that bad. It’s probably about managing my load throughout the week and doing all I can before and after sessions to make sure I’m putting my body in the best possible condition.
“You have to kiss her [the pressure of kicking]. One week you can score all of your goals and score a certain number of points and the next one you can miss and lose and those are the things people choose. They see that you have to lose a game, which is 100% true. It was personally a few weeks after the final, but you have to get back on the horse and trust the work done.
“I am not obsessive. I can have a terrible day in training where nothing is working, but I’m able to cut it off and say, “No, that’s enough for the day. I can come back tomorrow and be better ”. For me, I just need to be consistent each week with my preparation and that will put me in the right space for the weekend.
La Rochelle got off to an odd start in 2021/22, losing four of their first five games with Ronan O’Gara now in full charge after Jono Gibbes left for Clermont. Fortunes have since improved with a pair of back-to-back wins, enough to climb to seventh place heading into this weekend’s eighth round, but it took hard work for that improvement to materialize.
“Last year we didn’t lose that many games in a short period of time, so the honest review had to be done. Last year we only lost a few games here and there and we didn’t have to watch each other as closely as we did after losing four out of five at the start of this season. Ronan must have been tough and direct with us because we weren’t getting the results.
“He was very strong, very direct with the messages he gave, the images he showed… It’s great to have him in charge. You have to respect what he has done as a player and also as a coach, he has coached all over the world. He has a lot of great ideas, gives you a lot of confidence in yourself as an individual and as a player, so it’s great to have him in charge.
“You certainly know he’s the boss and it’s his path or the highway. He definitely took control of the team but last year he was the boss of our offense and the way we wanted to play etc. We have great conversations, not just about rugby but everything, travel and life. Being able to talk to someone who has been and has been as a player, been in great games and won great games, it’s great to choose your brain whenever I can.
For how long is still open to speculation, however. West was linked in early 2021 with a departure at the end of his initial three-year contract at La Rochelle, but he eventually signed a twelve-month extension to take him through July 2022. After that, who knows?
“My wife and I love life in France and that’s where we want to stay and have a number of more seasons. Whether in La Rochelle or elsewhere, we hope to be able to resolve this in the coming months… I love the proximity to everything. You can travel. Being in New Zealand, you are isolated.
“The closest place is Australia and it’s still a three-hour flight, whereas here in France, there are places to go. An hour’s flight and you’re in London or an hour and a half and you’re in Spain so the trip is awesome. And just the way the people are here is awesome too. It took a bit of getting used to, but once you figure out how much they love appetizers at night and things like that, it’s just a good culture to be a part of.
?? And we end with Ihaia West who, back from injury, is impatient to find Deflandre and its supporters… ?? pic.twitter.com/KW3Kiymc5v
– Stade Rochelais (@staderochelais) 22 October 2021
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