Christian Leali’ifano had many high points in a storied career, but the buzz of being part of something special was evident when he spoke at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday after the debut of Moana Pasifika in Super Rugby.
The 34-year-old was proud to be part of a performance by Moana Pasifika against the Crusaders that was much better than many expected, although sad that his friends and family couldn’t be on hand for the to see.
He was thrilled that Moana Pasifika could be a platform to showcase Pasifika culture to the world. And, he was sure they had a lot more up their sleeve as they quickly focused on the Hurricanes in Wellington next Saturday.
“We had to set a marker to see where we are as a team against one of the best provincial teams in the world,” said Leali’ifano, who set up Moana Pasifika’s second try against Fine Inisi with an assist. pop. ground.
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“We have a really strong base to look at some things, and go and work on it.
“That’s the challenge. We have to improve every week, because this competition is not easy. It’s one of the toughest in the world, but we have a really enthusiastic group that wants to improve, to work hard and to make its people proud.
The afternoon kickoff against the Hurricanes (4:35 p.m.) should encourage plenty of ball movement from both sides, and Leali’ifano said Moana Pasifika’s build-up will have a clear focus.
“It will take a lot of looking at our game and how we can advance our game in attack,” he said. “I thought defensively we hung on tonight.
“It’s about trying to manage our energy and being able to attack.
“We can’t look too far into the Hurricanes. We know they are going to be a tough job at home.
“They play quality rugby, expensive rugby, but first we will look at our game and what needs to be improved, so we can have more options to play.”
Perhaps the best thing about Moana Pasifika’s performance was that she brought a different feel to the competition.
Of course, many players emerged through New Zealand routes, but their unique Pasifika identity was there from the start with their very physical attitude in defense and their willingness to play with ambition in attack.
Lincoln McClutchie, Danny Toala and Levi Aumua played admirably with limited ball in the No. 10, No. 12 and No. 13 jerseys, and Leali’ifano confirmed they had been licensed to play.
“The system we have allows him [McClutchie] to express themselves and the other boys, their flavor,” he said. It was nice to see glimpses of it, and we would like to see some more. I’m sure that will come during the season.
The performance was also supported by smart work off the pitch. Leali’ifano said he spent 14 days in self-isolation before the season, but Moana Pasifika seemed well conditioned.
“I think it is an honor for our doctors and our S and Cs to have gone through the protocols in and around the world and to have done studies and research on athletes coming out of Covid and isolation” , said Leali’ifano.
“Their plan put our health and well-being first, and then the boys really bought into that and trusted it, and we were able to put in a performance that probably surprised a lot of people, not just with the way which we played but the effort and energy we found.