Naholo Finds Voice, Form

Fijian-born flyer Waisake Naholo takes a big breath and exhales. The toughest thing about being an All Black for the 24-year-old Fijian is the press conferences. A few weeks ago,
02 Oct 2015 10:11
Naholo Finds Voice, Form

Fijian-born flyer Waisake Naholo takes a big breath and exhales.
The toughest thing about being an All Black for the 24-year-old Fijian is the press conferences.
A few weeks ago, Naholo struck the most awkward of figures at Parliament where the 31-man World Cup squad were paraded before the nation.
His smile was all nerves and he was so inaudible when he faced the cameras that voice recorders didn’t even pick up his words.
Which brings us to Cardiff and the Hilton Hotel where he’s again faced a room full of cameras after being named to start his first Rugby World Cup match against Georgia on Saturday.
When it’s over Naholo transforms. His shoulders drop, his head lifts, his eyes focus and his voice changes.
Naholo takes a second then speaks for the first time about a shyness he believes has held him back since he was a child growing up in Fiji.
“I think I have always lacked confidence and I have always been shy,” he said. “I didn’t really put myself forward and I was scared to speak up. I think that’s why I took so long. I was always thinking I wasn’t good enough.
“I’m the oldest [child]. My little brother if you look at his instagram he’s not shy at all, but I’ve always been like that. My dad (Aporosa), he was like that too, quite shy.”
When he was in the New Zealand U20s in 2011 then coach Chris Boyd struggled to understand the talented wing to the point he sometimes wondered if he wasn’t entirely focused and didn’t even start him in the final.
Looking back, Naholo understands the perception. He had similar issues with the New Zealand sevens team in 2012, then the Blues who eventually lost interest and dumped him in 2013.
It was a chance for reflection and when the Highlanders threw him a Super Rugby lifeline in 2015 it provided the catalyst for change.
He resolved with his partner that it would be his year and when he got to Dunedin things start to fall into place.
“Going to Dunedin I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know anyone, so I had to ask a lot of questions. I was out of my comfort zone.
“When I knew the game plan, when I knew what we were doing, then I felt more confident. The coaches, Jamie Joseph, Tony [Brown], and Scott McLeod, they were all really good. They just said go out and play, do what you do.”
The presence of fellow Fijian Patrick Osborne on the other wing also provided a vital sounding board and slowly but surely Naholo’s shyness faded and he began to believe in his own talents.
“I’ve never told anyone about my lack of confidence before, but it’s always been there.”
If the shyness was holding him back, the talent was not.
Naholo’s humble about his speed, but word is he was uncatchable as a kid.
“I was quite fast, I ran the 100m and that sort of stuff, but I was never the fastest. I went back to Fiji in 2011 and played a game for my club team and someone kicked the ball ahead.
“I was sprinting as hard as I could to chase the ball and then the loose forwards went past me. I’m not that fast in Fiji. Everyone is fast in Fiji.”
But few possess the combination of balance, physicality, skill and determination to make it to the top echelons of world rugby.
Naholo conjures up images of the Fijian flyers who have gone before in the black jersey, Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, and Joeli Vidiri, but his hero was the man that got away when it came to the All Blacks.
“Rupeni,” he says without hesitation when asked who he looked up to. “Rupeni was the best wing I’ve ever seen. He was the one I wanted to be like. Joe Roks was good too, but more structured.”
Rupeni is, of course, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, perhaps the most talented natural runner rugby has ever seen.
“I’ve never met them. When Rupeni played for Northland a few years ago I really wanted to play against him [for Taranaki], but I never did. I’ve never seen anyone as good as he is. I think if he was an All Black maybe he would be the greatest wing ever.”
And what about Naholo? What were his rugby aspirations when he shifted to New Zealand to attend Wanganui City College?
“My uncle was the one that we looked up to in the family. He represented Fiji and when I moved to Wanganui when I was 15 I remember my family saying to me you have to try and do better than Esala [Nauga]. He was a centre. I thought how do I do better than representing Fiji? It was to make the All Blacks.” Stuff

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