Rising rugby star Evaan Reihana has spoken of the personal pain which is helping drive him on his mission to wear the famed All Black jersey.

The 23-year-old son of former All Black and New Zealand Māori star Bruce Reihana was one of the standout players for King Country in their recent Heartland Championship campaign.

He played for the Rams after an earlier pro stint with French Top 14 club the Bordeaux Begles – and more than two years after the murder of his former English girlfriend India Chipchase.

India, aged 20, was raped and killed in January 2016 by a man she had met outside a Northampton nightclub who had promised to get her home safely.

Advertisement
The memory of his slain ex-girlfriend India Chipchase is helping inspire rising rugby star Evaan Reihana.
The memory of his slain ex-girlfriend India Chipchase is helping inspire rising rugby star Evaan Reihana.

In a tribute posted to social media shortly after the tragedy, Reihana wrote that he would "be playing for you for as long as I know."

Talking to the Herald on Sunday, Reihana said the memory of Chipchase remained strong and was a motivating factor for him in his life – including in his pursuits on the rugby field.

"She will always be in my heart – I will always have a place for her in my heart.

"She was a really nice person. She was always supportive of me and my rugby. She was always there when I needed a shoulder to cry on. She was cool.

"[Unfortunately] bad things happen to good people."

Reihana said he and India were "high school sweethearts".

They met in Northampton, which the Reihanas called home during Bruce's 10-season stint with the Northampton Saints rugby club.

The pair broke up when Evaan moved to France where his father was playing for the Bordeaux Begles. The younger Reihana was later signed to the team himself.

But the split was short-lived.

"We then got back together and she came over to France and we were together over in France for about nine months," Reihana said.

Homesickness eventually saw India return to be with her family in the UK.

"At that time we had decided to see [if it would work living separately]. But we ended up splitting up," Reihana said.

Shortly after her return to the UK, tragedy struck.

India Chipchase is shown on CCTV with Edward Tenniswood the man convicted of her rape and murder. Photo / Supplied
India Chipchase is shown on CCTV with Edward Tenniswood the man convicted of her rape and murder. Photo / Supplied

India was last seen alive on the night of January 30, 2016, during a night out in Northampton.

Her body was found the following day.

In August 2016, Edward Tenniswood, then aged 51, was jailed for at least 30 years for the rape and murder of India.

A jury took just two hours to find him guilty of the crime.

Edward Tenniswood, convicted of the murder of India Chipchase in 2016. Photo / Supplied
Edward Tenniswood, convicted of the murder of India Chipchase in 2016. Photo / Supplied

Video footage released after her death showed Tenniswood ushering the 20-year-old – who was intoxicated – into a taxi, telling her "I'll make sure you get home safe".

Reihana – who is now based in Hamilton and has a new partner – said India's death had rocked him.

"I went through a rough patch; just thinking that if she didn't go home … that this wouldn't have happened."

After playing professionally in France, Reihana returned to New Zealand this year where he played club rugby in the Waikato, before signing with King Country for the Heartland Championship.

He said he "loved" the experience, which saw him go from a professional playing contract to receiving a far smaller weekly payment and gas money to cover travel costs to training sessions.

Evaan Reihana playing for King Country during a Heartland Championship match against Horowhenua Kapiti in September. Photo / Getty Images
Evaan Reihana playing for King Country during a Heartland Championship match against Horowhenua Kapiti in September. Photo / Getty Images

And despite living 18,475km apart, Reihana said his father was a huge inspiration, in both his endeavours on and off the rugby field.

"My dad always told me to do things myself, especially with the rugby," he said.

"He has always encouraged me to find my own way. He has always been like that and I am very lucky."

Bruce Reihana played two tests for the All Blacks in 2000. He was also an injury replacement at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, but did not make it onto the field.

He was a standout for Waikato, the Chiefs, New Zealand A and New Zealand Māori, and won gold medals for the New Zealand Sevens team at the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games, during his career in this country.

New Zealand Rugby 7s player Bruce Reihana on his way to score against Wales during their clash in the Commonwealth Games Rugby 7s quarter final in Manchester in 2002. New Zealand won 24-0. Photo / File
New Zealand Rugby 7s player Bruce Reihana on his way to score against Wales during their clash in the Commonwealth Games Rugby 7s quarter final in Manchester in 2002. New Zealand won 24-0. Photo / File

Bruce Reihana quit New Zealand rugby at the end of the 2002 season to take up a pro contract in Europe. He is now a skills coach at the Bristol Bears.

Evaan Reihana said he had now firmly set his sights on trying to emulate his father's onfield achievements.

"Definitely my goal is to become an All Black. It has always been [a goal]. I grew up around rugby and I have seen what my dad has achieved," he said.

"The Māori All Blacks is obviously also a goal. It is the culture of that team too having been brought up Māori, with the language and the culture side of it. That would make it pretty special playing in the Māori jersey."