Former footy stars join the fight against diabetes

By Te Ao - Māori News

All Black legend Carlos Spencer and Sevens World Cup-winning captain DJ Forbes are set to come out of retirement next month when the NZ Barbarian Legends take on the Pacific Legends.

The game is set to be a star-studded affair, with both sides expected to feature a number of well-known players of yesteryear.  The match has been organised to raise awareness of the diabetes and obesity epidemic affecting many New Zealand communities, especially among Pacific Islanders and Māori.

All Blacks great Sir Michael Jones will coach the NZ Barbarian Legends and former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga will assume the coaching role with the Pacific Legends.

“Rugby has always had the power to bring people together and to inspire and motivate, so when I was asked to get behind this match and help out with the New Zealand Barbarian Legends I didn’t hesitate,” says Jones.

“It’s a great chance to talk about this incredibly important issue and I know the players will be role modelling the importance of healthy lifestyles as they dust off their boots and train for this match.”

The Pacific Legends will be built around Forbes, a proud Samoan New Zealander who retired in 2017 after more than a decade as a fixture in the All Blacks Sevens.

Headlining the NZ Barbarian Legends line-up is former Māori All Blacks, Auckland and Blues first-five Spencer, who played 35 Tests for the All Blacks between 1997 and 2004.

Spencer retired from serious rugby in 2010, but made a cameo for the Blues at the Brisbane Tens in 2017.  He is looking forward to once again strapping on his boots, especially as it provides a chance to rise awareness around "a really critical health issue".

Having been out the game for a few years, Spencer is predicting some of his former teammates to be feeling their age by full-time. 

"There might be a few tired bodies at the end of the day, but the skills are still there and the competitive spirit, so it should be a lot of fun,” he says.

The game will be the curtain-raiser to the All Blacks v Tonga Test in Hamilton on September 7th, and will be broadcast live on Sky Television.

The driving force behind the curtain-raiser is the MaiBody, MaiFuture health project launched by the Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) last year that sees high profile rugby players role modelling healthier lifestyles to fight obesity and diabetes.

Diabetes is one of New Zealand’s most serious health issues, but with seven of the 10 countries with the highest incidence of diabetes in the Pacific, it is of even greater concern for Pasifika peoples.

“We have a major problem with obesity and diabetes in our communities, but through rugby we are trying to make a positive difference and lead the way for healthy lifestyles,” says PRP Chief Executive Aayden Clarke.

“Rugby provides a great platform for us to speak directly to our Pacific Island and Māori communities and by bringing all these players together hopefully our message will be heard, and we can really get our people to sit up and make some changes.”

New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA) Player Services Manager and former All Blacks halfback Kevin Senio said there were plenty of nervous answers when he started to call around his former peers.

“Some of the guys will be hitting the road and dusting off the gym gear, but that’s really the point.  It’s never too late to get active and change your lifestyle and sports, including rugby, are a great place to start.

“It wasn’t difficult to get buy-in from the players and they are all excited about the prospect of playing on the big stage one more time, reconnecting with their friends and being able to make a difference.”