Newly minted All Black Jackson Hemopo may have made his name as a Manawatu Turbo and as a Highlander, but the connection to Rotorua runs deep.

Hemopo was one of four new caps announced in the All Blacks squad to face France tonight, with coach Steve Hansen saying he was an "exciting prospect" in a video explaining the selection.

Rugby was in Hemopo's blood as his "rugby mad" paternal grandfather, Nikolai Stephens, played for Ngongotaha in the 70s, while his father, Barry Hemopo, played league for Manawatu in his army days, his mother, Janine Stephens, said.

Hemopo also attended Upper Atiamuri School and Rotorua Intermediate School between 2003 and 2006, playing for Kahukura Rugby Club as well as age-representative basketball, hockey and cricket.


His mother said Hemopo's call-up was a "dream come true".

"He's worked quietly and hard, and we're just rapt for him that he finally got there because for us, as a family, we knew his potential.

"It's just been a matter of waiting and waiting for it to happen for him."

All Black Jackson Hemopo, 5, in his Whakarua Warriors kit. Photo / Supplied
All Black Jackson Hemopo, 5, in his Whakarua Warriors kit. Photo / Supplied

Janine said Hemopo was a "humble young man", who did not gloat about his achievements or how well he played.

It was this down-to-earth nature that Janine said was the reason she did not find out about the call-up from her son.

"We actually got a message from one of my partner's friends, saying, 'Congratulations, your son's an All Black.'

"We were driving at the time and it was like, 'What? Is this guy having us on?'

"So I said, 'Hang on, I'm going to check social media'."


Seeing her name tagged in news articles prompted her to call Hemopo, only the line was engaged.

He eventually got back to her, saying he had only found out hours before she did, she said.

Janine's brother, Tysone Stephens, said he and Hemopo "grew up as brothers".

The 28-year-old said Hemopo had "big ties to Rotorua".

"We called Rotorua home. Dad played for Ngongotaha, Jackson's dad is from Whakarewarewa and Jackson himself played for Kahukura.

"We sort of adopted Rotorua as our home."


Tysone said Hemopo had "always been a gifted athlete", with news of his elevation to the All Blacks "blowing up" his news feed.

"Jackson's humble, a man of few words. He lets his actions on the field speak for him."

Janine said she wished Barry and her father were still here to see his first game, saying they would be "proud of him".

"Those two have obviously been guiding him along the way, to get him to where he is."