Next generation players up against their fathers' team

By James Perry

Two of the Māori All Blacks who played in today's game against Fiji in Suva are sons of former Flying Fijians. 

Isaia Walker-Leawere (Ngāti Porou) is the son of former Fijian captain and Ngāti Porou East Coast local hero Kele Leawere.

Isaia says taking the field with his family watching on is exciting.

"Playing in front of my Fijian side here and then going back to Rotorua and playing in front of my Māori side will be quite special."

His father Kele, who is now living in Sigatoka, coaches the Fijian Under 20 national side. He says he is proud of what his son has achieved so far in his career, however, Kele says full credit must go to "Izzy" and the whānau back home in New Zealand who have raised him to be where he is today.

"He's done things and he's been to places I didn't," Leawere Senior says, "I didn't play super rugby, he did. An now he's playing for the Māori All Blacks, that's another achievement. It's I think full credit to him, it's all his hard work. It's not about his dad, it's about Izzy."

Kele Leawere captained the Flying FIjians at the 2007 World Cup. His son Isaia played for the Māori All Blacks in Suva. Photo/file

This week in Fiji, Isaia has been inundated with visits at the team hotel by family. His father says Isaia has told him he has been given tapa cloths and other items to take home to New Zealand. Isaia says in return he tries to provide his Fijian based relatives with as much as he can, tickets to a game or anything he can.

Prop, Haereiti Hetet, who made his Māori All Blacks debut today, is the son of one of Kele Leawere's former Fijian teammates, Joeli Veitayaki.

Hetet, who trialled with the Fijian Under 20 team a few years ago, says the thought had occurred to him during the week, "how our fathers used to play rugby together for Fiji and just us playing together this weekend possibly."

The newcomer, however, says having Isaia in the side has made things slightly easier in the lead-up to his debut.

"He has the last name, I don't have my father's last name so he takes all the limelight. I'm happy about that."

Kele Leawere says, "seeing two players with ties to Fiji coming back and playing against the team their dads played for, it's a big achievement for Joe's family and Haereiti as well."  

Hetet says his call up to the Māori All Blacks hasn't come without some pressure and banter from his father.

"He's happy and proud and trying to get me to flip sides, but yeah, nah it's all good."

The two younger players both insist that although they're happy to wear black at this point of their careers, they're leaving the door open to possibly one day following in their fathers' footsteps to the Flying Fijians.