Rugby World Cup 2011

NZ look to 'superman' Weepu

2011-10-22 06:42
Piri Weepu (File)

Auckland - It has been a remarkable year for All Blacks scrumhalf Piri Weepu, rebounding from a broken leg to become the pivotal player in a New Zealand team that plays France in the Rugby World Cup final on Sunday.

When first-choice flyhalves Dan Carter and Colin Slade both sustained tournament-ending groin injuries, the inexperienced Aaron Cruden was drafted in at No 10 and Weepu became the goal-kicking, 'senior', half-back.

Such has been his impact, with four conversions and 11 penalties so far at this World Cup, it is now nigh impossible to avoid talk of Weepu in New Zealand, be it in the streets of Auckland, on the internet or in the nation's newspapers.

"Piri ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one," runs a joke about Weepu.

There are also posters pasted up around town of the 28-year-old of Maori and Niuean descent with his head superimposed on a Superman outfit.

"Richie give me the ball, Cory and Zac get out of that bar and John (Prime Minster John Key). Sort that leaky boat out," runs another Weepu 'dictate' in reference to All Blacks captain McCaw, wings Jane and Guildford - whom Weepu was entrusted with getting out of a bar late one night - and the oil spill from a stricken container ship off the New Zealand coastline.

But it has not all been such plain sailing for the 55-times capped back, who failed to make the cut for the 2007 World Cup after questions were raised over his fitness levels.

Having made his debut as a 21-year-old against Wales back in 2004, Weepu is one of the All Blacks' elder statesman, and often leads the haka.

"I'm pretty sure most of the boys get excited by moments like this," Weepu said of playing in the final.

"As a little kid in the backyard you dream of playing for your country and scoring the winning try or taking the winning kick. Moments like these are moments you don't want to forget.

"Everyone can't wait to wake up on game day and feel the buzz that is in the air and excitement around town. You can feel the energy. You go down to breakfast and look on the faces of the boys and see the excitement on their faces."

All Blacks coach Graham Henry, with whom he has had a love-hate relationship, has branded Weepu the navigator of his team.

"I think he can navigate the side from half-back (scrumhalf)," Henry said. "Because that is his best position. That is where he feels most comfortable.

"Having a young 10 with him it is very important he takes over the running of the side, the navigating of the team."

Weepu knows what to expect from France, twice shock victors over the All Blacks in the 1999 and 2007 World Cups: the unexpected.

"On their day they can play the best rugby of their lives and this is the opportunity for them to do that," he said.

"They can be quite dangerous so we are definitely not taking them too lightly and we know it is going to be a pretty physical encounter."


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