Rameka Poihipi's surprising journey to Māori All Blacks Co-Captaincy

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“I asked myself what I do bring. I struggled to compare myself to the great leaders of the past,” Poihipi said.

“I played under Ash Dixon, and he represents everything a Māori All Black should be. I was worried when I compared myself to him, but coach Ross Filipo had a lot of faith in me.

“Ross told me to be myself. I’ll get my own game right first and then be a voice. We haven’t got a lot of experience in this team so I guess I can fill that void.”

Poihipi has been a mainstay of Canterbury since 2019 (47 games, 10 tries, 27 wins) and the Chiefs since 2021 (44 games, 4 tries, 33 wins). He debuted for the Māori All Blacks in a 28-21 win against Moana Pasifika XV in 2020. Subsequently, Poihipi played in victories against Samoa (38-21) in 2021 and Ireland (32-17) in 2022.

Last Saturday Poihipi was summoned from the bench in the 36-10 victory over Japan XV in the first of two Lipovitan D Challenge Cup fixtures.

In oppressive humidity at the historic Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium in Tokyo, Poihipi replaced injured starting centre and Chiefs teammate Daniel Rona midway through the first half. In the 38th minute, Poihipi was yellow-carded for a high tackle returning to the field in the second half and scoring two tries.

“It was a completely different game from what I expected,” Poihipi laughed.

“We expected Japan to come out firing, but it was a bit loose. 

“I’m proud the boys held them to five points in that first 20 minutes.

“My tries were from the Mahi of my mates. On the first try, I snagged from Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. I had my hands in the air celebrating for him when he suddenly passed it to me.

 “I think he was gassed because he’d made a try-saving tackle a couple of minutes earlier.

“My second try was down to Tana Tuhakaraina. He’s a bloody good player I’ve had lots to do with, in the Chiefs. I’m stoked he gets his opportunity. What you get, is what you see from him.”

Poihipi was born and raised in Te Puke and his father of the same name played 62 games for Bay of Plenty between 1994 and 2002. His mother Jaala is a popular schoolteacher.

Rameka attended Hamilton Boys’ High School. This week legendary coach Nigel Hotham coaches his final match for the First XV. Since 2003 Hotham, with assistant Greg Kirkham, have led Hamilton to five national titles and produced 51 New Zealand Secondary Schools representatives. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Josh Lord, Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea, Emoni Narawa and freshly selected Cortez Ratima are Hotham and Kirkham-produced All Blacks.

Poihipi was part of the Hamilton First XV between 2014 and 2016. Hamilton shared the National Top Four in 2014 and won the Super 8 three times.

“There are an abundance of players who have Nigel to thank for their careers,” Poihipi said.

“The programme is so extensive it sets you up for the mental and physical demands of professional rugby.

“The other thing it does is build special connections. There’s so much training, travel, challenge and fun. The camaraderie is very strong. I consider myself privileged to have been part of it.”

Māori All Blacks selection is the highest honour Poihipi has enjoyed. Gaining a greater appreciation of his Māori identity is more important than the rugby.

The rugby on this tour is dedicated to 2022 Māori All Black Connor Garden-Bachop who tragically passed away of a medical event aged 25 last month. Saturday’s match started with Japan XV presenting the Māori All Blacks with a commemorative jersey that Poihipi collected with fellow skipper Billy Harmon at halfway.

“It’s been a rough week for the boys so that moment was special. It shows what a great country and culture Japan is. Ngā mihi nui,” Poihipi said.


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