"Your parents do anything for you" - Family motivates Tupou Vaa'i

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Vaa'i, a Chiefs and Taranaki lock, made his All Blacks debut at 20, an early age in such a key position when coming off the bench against Australia in 2020. That gave him another distinction – the first player born in the 21st century to play for New Zealand.

Standing 2 metres tall and weighing 118kg, he was still in his first season of Super Rugby when selected as an injury replacement and did not have a contract when joining the Chiefs. However, his ability was quickly recognised, and he was named in the North Island team.

He has played 23 Tests as the side prepares to meet Italy next weekend.

Vaa'i told The Front Row Daily Show on NZR+ that his early rugby was played at East Tamaki Rugby Club and then at Wesley College, where he said he matured quickly, finishing as head boy. But playing for the All Blacks at a Rugby World Cup was not on his horizon.

Vaa'i said his first Rugby World Cup experience was attending the bronze medal game when Australia beat Wales 21-18 at Eden Park in 2011.

His mother had been given a ticket at her job and gave it to him so he could attend. She drove him to the game, waited outside until the game was finished and then drove him home.

It made playing his first game at a World Cup earlier this month all the more memorable.

"I get emotional talking about because your parents do anything for you," he said.

Family kept him grounded, and he was grateful for all they had done for him.

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