Rugby: Magpies eye barnstorming prop

By Shane Hurndell


Remember Sona Taumalolo?

Indeed ... it's hard to forget the former Chiefs and Tonga rugby prop who played 61 first class games for the Magpies from 2005-11 and is now playing for Perpignan in France. Well, there's a bloke who has arrived in the Bay and he has the potential to become the next Sona.

Ziggy Fisi-Ihoi, one of the stars of East Coast's Heartland Championship Meads Cup-winning team last year, is eyeing a tighthead prop berth in the Magpies ITM Cup squad. Fisi-Ihoi, 25, weighs 120kgs and like the crowd-pleasing Taumalolo is lethal on the charge.

A former No8, Fisi-Ihoi was loaned to East Coast from the Bay of Plenty union, where he played his club rugby, last year.

"Ziggy is at the stage where Sona was six or seven years ago. He is going to be another project for Dearnsy and Dearnsy is excited about it," Magpies coach Craig Philpott said, referring to Magpies fitness trainer and front row guru Grant Dearns.

Fisi-Ihoi will play his club rugby for Taradale alongside another 2012 East Coast rep, first five-eighth John Semple. Irishman Semple, a product of Willie John McBride's Ballymona club, arrived in the country at the start of last year and played club rugby in Christchurch.

Another key recent Magpies signing is Canterbury winger Telusa Veainu. A 2010 World Cup-winning New Zealand under-20 player, Veainu would have arrived in the Bay last month had he not been called into the Crusaders team as cover for Zac Guildford and Kurt Baker.

"Ironically if Zac decides to go offshore Telusa could end up taking Zac's berth in the Magpies. Obviously if Zac decides to stick with us we will have cover and Telusa can also play centre," Philpott said.

Veainu, 22, who played five games for the Highlanders during the 2011-12 Super seasons, opted to play for the Magpies as he wants to have a serious crack at being a starting winger.

Had he remained with Canterbury, Veainu would have likely been ranked behind Adam Whitelock and Johnny McNicholl.

Veainu has yet to be allocated to a club - unlike another former Cantab, lock Michael Allardice, who will play for Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports. A product of Palmerston North Boys' High School, Allardice trialled for the New Zealand Under-20 side in 2011.

Allardice has been in Canterbury for the past three years.

Former Crusaders Knights captain and No8 Mark Abbott has scored a Magpies development contract and will be a member of the Magpies wider training group. The 1.97m Abbott can also play lock and blindside flanker.

A former St Andrews College player in Christchurch, Abbott has benefited from stints in the Canterbury Rugby Academy. He will play for Napier Old Boys Marist.

"Mark is one of our fittest players at the moment," Philpott said.

Coach Philpott has heard former Hawke's Bay age group star and Hurricanes Secondary Schools midfield back Billy Ropiha is about to return to the Clive club after a stint in the United Kingdom and he is keen to check out his form.

"I understand Billy is in good shape and wants to give the Magpies a good crack," Philpott said.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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