FAST TRACKED: Telusa Veainu is appearing in a Rugby World Cup far sooner than he had expected
GLOUCESTER, 16 Sept - Telusa Veainu may be an All Blacks fan at heart, but he will relish the chance to front up against the world champions for Tonga when the two sides meet in their final Pool C fixture at Rugby World Cup 2015.
Having grown up in Christchurch and risen through the Canterbury and New Zealand representational ranks as a teenager, seeing Richie McCaw lift the Webb Ellis Cup in 2011 was a moment Veainu cherished.
But when the Tongan team came calling ahead of last season’s Pacific Nations Cup, it dawned on Veainu that he could mix it with the world's elite much sooner than anticipated.
"I was coming off a contract with the Melbourne Rebels and was asked if I wanted a crack at playing for Tonga. I totally forgot it was a World Cup year and I said 'why not?'" the wing explained.
“This has been my first year playing for Tonga, so I didn’t expect everything to happen so quickly."
Born into a Tongan household, the wing said there was always a friendly rivalry between him and his parents, especially during the opening fixture of the last World Cup when the All Blacks beat Tonga 41-10 in Auckland.
“When New Zealand ever played Tonga, there was a split in the house," Veainu said. "It would be bittersweet whoever won."
But there will be no split loyalties when Veainu comes up against the All Blacks on 9 October.
“I’ve grown up with some of those boys and I know a few of the Canterbury boys having won some titles down there. It would be a great moment for me,” said Veainu, who is now proud to be a part of the Tongan RWC 2015 team.
“It hasn’t kicked in really, I can’t explain it - the World Cup gives you a different energy. We’ve got some really senior players in the team and it has been good talking to them about their experiences and it really pulls us through.
“For some of them, it’s their third or fourth World Cup so it’s good to bounce ideas off them, and not only the rugby stuff but the off-field stuff as well, like dealing with the hype around the tournament.”
RARING TO GO
Before he can focus on facing the All Blacks, Veainu is hoping to feature in Tonga's opening RWC 2015 fixture - against Georgia at Kingsholm on Saturday.
“Everyone is saying that our forward pack is our main strength, but we’re keen to balance that out in the backs and express ourselves,” Veainu added.
“We haven’t had a chance to do that so far but, against Georgia, we’re looking to have a go. We are sick and tired of training and taking it out on each other. We just want to get out there.”
Veainu's teammate Sitiveni Mafi believes Tonga could even spring a surprise against the All Blacks.
“Looking at their clips, they are known for their size and physicality. That’s what we’re known for as well and we’re just looking forward to the clash,” the 25-year-old lock said.
“The World Cup brings the best out of every country and we will want to do our best. This week, we will focus on Georgia and then look to Namibia. I am sure there will be some surprises.
“We definitely have a great bond in the Tonga squad. That’s how we will look at each other – as a family – and we will continue to do that throughout the tournament.”