Rugby: Liaki Moli finally gets chance to crack 50

By Campbell Burnes

Auckland's number 5, Liaki Moli delivers the line out.
Auckland's number 5, Liaki Moli delivers the line out.

You might not have noticed it, but Liaki Moli played some good code on the blindside flank for the Sunwolves during the Super Rugby season.

Despite the hidings the Sunwolves copped, along with just two wins, Moli was enjoying his rugby after an horrendous run of injuries, the latest of which was a broken arm which curtailed his 2015 Auckland campaign after just two games.

The 26-year-old was stranded on 49 games for the union, so he was keen to return for this Mitre 10 Cup, reach the milestone and try and help his team - for whom he has always played well - back to the top of the provincial tree.

His 50th did not go according to plan, as Canterbury ran rampant last weekend, but Moli is not dwelling on it.

"Last week was a bit of a shocker. We had a lot of new guys in the team. But we have to flush it and learn from our mistakes. It's our first home game now and we need to come out hissing," says Moli, of tomorrow night's Eden Park crossover clash with the Northland Taniwha.

Moli is, along with Steven Luatua, the sole Auckland squad survivor from his debut season of 2010, when Mark Anscombe was coach.

"Stevie's calling me 'Koro', so I must be the oldest on the team."

He is, by 12 days from prop Sam Prattley.

"(Reaching 50) is a great achievement, but I didn't do it by myself. I had family behind me to keep me going, especially through the dark times with injury," says Moli.

He wears a protective cast to protect his arm after the break. It resembles that which Victor Matfield wore, and wielded, circa 2005.

Moli is loving the fact there are no less than five players in this Auckland squad from his beloved Manukau Rovers club: wing Stacey Ili, fullback Melani Nanai, five-eighths Calvary Fonoti and loose forward Josh Kaifa, plus himself, of course.

"It's a good thing because when I first came on the scene, no one knew anything about Rovers. I was the only player there, so it's good to see a few more in the squad."

Moli is not finding the transition to the new breakdown law trials too onerous.

"At the Sunwolves, the Japanese boys love running, so the game is up tempo. It's kind of the same here. You can no longer go in with the mindset of smashing people," he says.

Moli will be returning to the Sunwolves once Auckland's season is over, and do not discount him wearing the red and white of the Brave Blossoms of Japan at Rugby World Cup 2019. He will be just 30 then and still has open eligibility.

He also has a Japanese girlfriend, though she will stay there for the remainder of the Mitre 10 Cup.

"It was a good environment, good coaches and good people and they never took the fun out of it. We still had a good team culture, even though half the time the boys couldn't understand the foreign boys!"

He admits that he is working on the basics of the language, but is otherwise fully engaged in Japanese culture.

Moli is one strand of a solid Kiwi influence at the Sunwolves, which last season included coaches Mark Hammett and Filo Tiatia and players such as Tusi Pisi, Derek Carpenter and Faatiga Lemalu.

"(Representing Japan) is definitely part of the plan in going back. It would be an honour to represent Japan, but I'm focussed on Auckland while I'm here."

He will have to be, as the locking competition is Scott Scrafton, Michael Fatialofa and Ben Nee Nee, while Taleni Seu and Luatua can also slot into the second row with ease.

Moli will do his job at lock for Auckland, but he did not mind wearing the No 6 jersey for the Sunwolves.

"I loved it... less pushing in the scrums!"

- NZ Herald

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