Wallaby Kepu goes back to school a hero

(Rugby News Service) Wednesday 14 September 2011
Wallaby Kepu goes back to school a hero
Sekope Kepu was hailed as a role model at his former school

AUCKLAND, 14 Sept. – Emotions ran high for Australia’s Sekope Kepu as he returned to a hero’s welcome at his old school - the place he credits for helping to shape him into the man and rugby player he is today.

Students of Wesley College erupted into cheers and chanting as Kepu arrived at his alma mater, flanked by his wife Anna, daughter Faith Rose and Wallabies teammates.

“Sekope welcome home. You are back in your own family,” Chaplain Sylvia Tongotongo said before praying to “the god of the Rugby World Cup.”

The Wallaby prop is one of eight Wesley College old boys competing at Rugby World Cup 2011 and one of many heroes at a school whose rugby alumni includes All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu.

Principal Ian Faulkner summed up the pride of the school, and divided allegiance, when he addressed the special assembly.

“Sekope you are a role model to all of those who sit in front of you,” he said. “You are an example of someone who has made the most of every opportunity that has been given to you and in that way you inspire each and every one of us.

“Thank you for being who you are. We wish you all the best, up until the final.”

Struggle for words

Kepu was visibly moved by the reception as he took to the podium to present his old school principal with the jersey he wore for Australia’s victory over New Zealand in the Tri Nations final.

“Wesley moulded me into the person I am today, that’s why it holds a special place in my heart,” the big prop said, almost overwhelmed by his emotions.

“The place where I am at the moment, the person I am today, I’ve got to give credit to the school. Thank you to all the teachers at the time for bearing with me.”

Kepu struggled for words to describe memories stirred by the welcome from his old school, which finished with the students surrounding the Australian contingent to perform a haka.

“I was once upon a time in their shoes and leading the chants and leading the hakas and to see the legacy live on, it’s awesome,” he said.

Kepu’s teammates were equally awed by the “humbling” reception.

“I got chills up the spine, man, when I first walked in.” Wycliff Palu said. "It was pretty special. I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

'This is why you play rugby' 

“I never thought we’d come to New Zealand and get a reception like that,” Saia Fainga'a said.

“It was overwhelming,” Fainga'a’s brother Anthony added. “For me, still now playing in front of hundreds of thousands of people, to get that sort of reception from a school is outstanding.  

“You always remember the things in football and this is why you play rugby, you always remember the little things and this is a big part, especially at World Cup.”

Photographs of Wesley’s first XV from years gone by line the walls of the school’s dining hall, and with Lomu sitting front and centre in the team of 1993 it is easy to see where Kepu would have found inspiration.

“As a kid you grow up, you want to play rugby full time,” said Kepu, who was born in Sydney.

“You see the Jonah Lomus and all those guys and you aspire to be a player like him.

“Obviously I haven’t got the attributes that he has but I’m definitely really happy that I’m representing Australia and playing professional rugby.”

Role model

As Lomu once inspired a young Sekope Kepu, the Wallaby is now a role model for a new generation, including his second cousin and current Wesley first XV prop Tau Koloamatangi.

“Sekope is a very good role model to us students here, he’s someone to look up to in the future, someone to follow,” he said. 

“I’m playing the same position as ‘Kope too, going through the same footsteps, trying to reach the opposite of the Australian jersey, the All Blacks jersey. I’ll be playing against him in a couple of years’ time hopefully.

“It really inspires me to play rugby more, to play my hardest and if I can do that then maybe one day I can be like him,” 16-year-old Detroit Jessop added.

“He really has presence here, just knowing he’s part of this school inspires me to become more like him and work hard towards my future and creating my future.”

RNS omg/aa/sg