College Sport: Athletics champ puts his skills on the goalline

By Campbell Burnes

Rugby aids field games and vice versa, fullback says, but balancing can be tricky.
Niven Longopoa says rugby will probably be his pick long-term because he loves the team environment. Photo / Patrick Foster
Niven Longopoa says rugby will probably be his pick long-term because he loves the team environment. Photo / Patrick Foster

You might notice that the Mt Albert Grammar School First XV backline has a swift, athletic look about it.

Chiming in from fullback, or occasionally from the wing, is Niven Longopoa, the school's senior boys' athletics champion, victor ludorum and the 2015 ASB YSPOTY boys' athletics award winner.

The 18-year-old, Year 13 student is a gun hurdler and long jumper and is already showing his thirst for the goalline in what has been an unbeaten first half of the 1A season for the First XV. Often alongside him is his old mate, centre/wing Caleb Clarke, son of former All Black Eroni Clarke. He is not short of wheels either, placing second in the 100m of the Auckland schools champs in March.

"We've played with or against each other ever since we were 10 or 11, so we know each other well. Probably the clearest memory I have of Caleb is the Under 11s club final, Ponsonby v Grammar-Carlton. I had a runaway try and he caught me. I couldn't get over that game," says Longopoa.

Now Longopoa is leaving others in his wake, having run in First XV hat-tricks against Auckland Grammar and Otahuhu. He is also the back-up goalkicker. As a left-footer, he has received some good tuition in that area from Suburbs premier captain and No 10 Carl Perry.

Longopoa says "everything clicked" in the extraordinary 50-0 win over Auckland Grammar. Coming back down to ground and refocusing was important. He did that to good effect in last Saturday's 53-3 victory over Dilworth, in which he scored a nice solo try and was awarded player of the day.

Longopoa's athletics helps his rugby, and vice versa.

"Rugby helps with my fitness for athletics and athletics helps my rugby for speed and endurance. I used to be a bit too big for athletics and a bit too small for rugby, so I had to try and balance that out," says the Auckland Under 18 rep. Now he is 85kg and happy around that weight.

He has enjoyed success in the hurdles and long jump at Auckland, North Island and national schools level, though last year there was a clash with the schools nationals and the Condors 7s. The latter won out.

This year there is again a clash, but the schools nationals are at Mt Smart and Condors at Sacred Heart, so he has a plan to possibly do both.

Family support is strong, and his younger sister Kalisi is already showing real promise as a hurdler.

Longopoa is keen to play his club rugby next year at Grammar TEC, while he is eyeing up some form of tertiary study. Longer-term, rugby will probably win out over athletics, as he enjoys the team environment.

"Niven is a great example of what a young sportsman at MAGS can grow into," says First XV coach Geoff Moon. "He trains independently, does extras, and all the young ones can see that. He's lifted standards and he's got a magnificent temperament."

- NZ Herald

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