Rugby: We'll finish tournament on a high, vows Moli

By Campbell Burnes

Atu Moli Atunaisa.
Atu Moli Atunaisa.

The past 12 months have been heady ones in the rugby life of Atu Moli.

As head boy of Marlborough Boys College and captain of the First XV, he led them to Press Cup glory, started at loosehead prop for New Zealand Schools in the tight win over Australia and has commanded the New Zealand No 1 jersey in this Junior World Championship.

"It's been massive. Everyone who has supported me in my rugby career has got me to where I am now. I just have to keep believing in myself and striving forward," said the 19-year-old, one of 10 in this New Zealand squad who are still eligible next year.

Moli has cut a fearsome figure from on his knees at the front of the New Zealand haka. Like most of the pack, his performance came under close scrutiny after the pool loss to South Africa, but he atoned in the semifinal, as did his Waikato University clubmates and fellow front-rowers Hame Faiva and Tau Koloamatangi.

The trio, among several of Tongan descent in the team, rocketed around the park, making tackles, cleaning out and shoring up the scrum.

Moli has been helped in his front-row tuition by his flatmate, Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna. The former Blenheim boy has a long back, in the mould of former Auckland loosehead props Craig Dowd and Paul Thomson, but he can play on the other side too.

There is little comparison between that transtasman schools international last October and the two crunch outings against the Junior Boks.

"That was a massive step up with speed, intensity and physicality. Those games against South Africa were definitely the toughest I've ever played. There were some pretty big boys in there," said Moli.

"But it's good to be playing with the big boys. At the start of this campaign. I just thought I'd be on the bench, but I've learned more and more and kept reviewing my performance."

The ITM Cup might be a season too soon, but next weekend Moli will probably be turning out for his University side and setting his sights on September's national Under-19 tournament.

Moli is not going to die wondering in the third-fourth clash with Pool B winners Ireland. He said the team were down immediately after the semifinal loss, but by next morning had picked themselves off the canvas with the express aim of finishing the tournament in style.

"We're going to finish on a high note and really bring it to them."

The New Zealand team face Ireland tomorrow at Eden Park from 5.05pm.

Wing Tevita Li is among the four nominees of the IRB junior player of the year award, the others being first-five Handre Pollard (South Africa), wing Nathan Earle (England) and midfielder Garry Ringrose (Ireland).

Since 2008, three Kiwis have won the IRB gong: Luke Braid (2008), Aaron Cruden (2009), and Julian Savea (2010).

- NZ Herald

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