When the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand (IRANZ) was established in 2001, it’s primary purpose was to provide quality training to promising rugby players and coaches in order to maintain our national dominance of global rugby.
However it has since grown into much more than that. It is now an independent avenue for coaches and players worldwide to develop their skills and ability to pave their way into the professional game.
Fifteen years on, the International Rugby Academy is creating success stories from all corners of the globe.
IRANZ Graduate Vaea Fifita is one of those stories.
In 2011, the 1st XV coach at Auckland’s Tamaki College Richie Harris (now Head Coach at Northland) gave me a call talking of a “2 metre, 17 year-old kid with ‘freakish’ athleticism”.
After impressing Harris on his tour of Auckland with the Tongan Under-18 side, Vaea shifted to Auckland to play in the Auckland 1A competition. Not long thereafter, Fifita had landed a scholarship opportunity to attend the High Performance Players’ Course at IRANZ in July 2012.
Prior to the course, Fifita had never completed any conditioning training. Yet he excelled in the Yoyo Test and 40m Sprint. He had never received any coaching specific to his position, but after just one session with IRANZ Staff Coach and All Black lineout coach Mick Byrne, his skills had improved phenomenally. It was clear this boy had all the raw talent in the world and with the right guidance, I believed he was capable of great things.
Towards the end of the programme, I asked him what his goals were. His immediate response was to be an All Black. The way he replied held such determination, and I wanted to help any way I could to help him reach that goal.
Following the course, Vaea shifted to Wellington to play for my local club, Wellington Football Club – where I coached and continued to guide his growth.
After star performances for the Wellington Sevens team in 2013, Fifita earned selection for the Wellington Lions in 2014, and then the Hurricanes in 2015.
Vaea was named on the bench this week, in the All Blacks side to play Samoa this evening.
I look forward to watching him exit the tunnel wearing an All Black jersey.
Despite the talent he’s shown to date, I still do not believe Vaea has reached his potential.
The All Black environment could well be his making.