Chiefs lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi is still blown away by the impact of the Moana Pasifika rugby game against the Māori All Blacks this month.
Ah Kuoi, who is of Samoan ancestry, was part of the Moana Pasifika side, which lost 28-21 in Hamilton, and said it was much more than just a game of rugby.
Prior to the game, Ah Kuoi watched videos of his eight-month-old twins, Reegan and Rylee, and said he became emotional, knowing he was representing his family and people back in Samoa.
Ah Kuoi said it was humbling to present the Tau Kaukauwa, which combines the Manu Siva Tau, the Samoan war dance, with the Fijian and Tongan challenge, on the world stage against the Māori haka.
“I didn’t know how big the Māori All Blacks v Moana Pasifika game was going to be. At first, I just thought we would put the team together, have a bit of fun and play some footie. But it was such a big game for our people,” Ah Kuoi said.
“I thought that they made a Moana team just to fill in the Covid gaps, but they've been planning this team for years. It was really cool to have a team where we could be ourselves, play for ourselves, and represent ourselves."
Ah Kuoi’s parents are both lawyers and said they left Samoa for New Zealand to forge a better life for his family.
The aspiring All Black, who debuted for the Chiefs last season, said fatherhood had given him a different perspective on life. He is passionate about the high rates of malnutrition in the Pacific and has been working with Unicef to try and improve the situation.
Ah Kuoi was determined to work with Unicef New Zealand to get therapeutic food to malnourished children.
“Most meals today from the Pacific islands are nice and simple. We still cook in the umu, the Samoan version of the hangi, but food is cooked on top of the ground instead of under it. These natural cooking methods, and the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation.
“Taro is full of good carbs and a lot of people like to say it's a natural Samoan steroid. Lu’au is the taro leaf and high in fibre. If you mix it with taro and a bit of coconut cream, onion and cheese – that's the killer.
“Cheap, unhealthy foods are so accessible in New Zealand and many people come from the Islands with nothing and unhealthy food is right on their doorstep. That's the trap society is trapping our people in and the trap that we're falling for.”
Ah Kuoi admitted when he was growing up in Wellington he faced some tough times in the household, with sport, at school, and with relationships.
He started seeing a mental skills coach at the Wellington rugby academy several years ago and since then had opened up about anything troubling him.
“I want to be a great All Black and when my footy career is over, I want to open a dive store with a big freezer because my Mrs doesn’t like it when my stinky fish is in the fridge.
“Initially, I wanted my kids to be sports stars, but at the end of the day, I just want them to be happy and healthy. If they choose sport then that’s awesome. If they don't choose sport then that’s awesome too.
“I play my footy and work hard so that my kids can have a better life. I want all kids to have the same opportunities.”
Via Stuff NZ 13:2 Dec 21,2020
*Stuff has a partnership with Unicef NZ