All Blacks wing Sevu Reece has messaged brother Cyril in Fiji to say: “I could have played you Friday night.”
While Sevu Reece, 25, has been named on the Crusaders’ right wing for the clash with the Fijian Drua, Cyril, 30, will watch from a distance.
But they could have been on opposite sides for the Drua’s first visit to Christchurch in the Super Rugby Pacific.
“My older brother, he used to play for the Fijian Drua,” Reece said on Wednesday. “Just this year he stopped playing because he just had a little baby.
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“I’ve messaged him every time now saying, ‘Oh man, I could have played you this Friday.’
Reece made Super Rugby history last weekend when he became the fastest player to reach 40 tries in his 50th game.
He could have gotten some rest under the All Blacks’ rotation policy, but Reece made it clear to Crusaders coach Scott Robertson that he would never miss a date with the Drua.
“Yeah, this is a game I’d love to play in,” said Reece, noting it was the same last year when he “got to play against the Flying Fijians,” score a hat-trick in a test in Hamilton†
Reece moved to New Zealand in 2014 to play rugby at Hamilton Boy’s High School but grew up in Fiji playing ‘rugby with most of them’ from the Fijian Drua team. “Some of them who still play today, I remember going to see them when I was about twelve or a little younger. Getting the chance to play against them is pretty exciting.”
Reece met his Drua friends when they stayed at the Crusaders’ hotel in Melbourne last month and he will “definitely catch up” after Friday’s game at Orangetheory Stadium.
He is delighted with the impact the Drua have made in their first Super Rugby season.
“My father and all my family love to watch the Fijian Drua. Like all Fijians… they will always support the Fijian team.”
“You look at the stands and see all the blue flags, everyone is dancing and supporting the boys. We will definitely see that here in Christchurch.”
Reece said watching the Drua’s games made him wonder, ‘Where was this when I was growing up? I couldn’t dream it.”
He hopes the Drua’s arrival will show young people that there is now a path, ‘especially for small children who throw the plastic bottle as if it were a rugby ball. Now their dreams become real. When kids work hard, the door is there for them.”
Reece also expects more Fiji players at European clubs to “definitely come back and seize the opportunity” to play Super Rugby, “one of the strongest competitions we have”, following the example of test halfback Frank Lomani, who has returned from the Northampton saints.
While Reece plays his countrymen, George Bower, another crusader of Fijian descent, takes a forced break.
Robertson said the All Blacks loosehead was disappointed but “deserves a rest this week”.
“We were planning to do it a few weeks ago, but just with Covid and the way it worked, it became this game. He would have loved to play against his brothers, it would have been quite special for him. Shame.”
Finlay Brewis will start at loosehead, while Tamaiti Williams will continue the role of impact replacement.
Robertson made seven changes to the starting lineup which delivered the 36-27 win over the Brumbies last week.
He also reassured Argentina’s test winger Pablo Matera and former All Black backrower Cullen Grace, saying the pair, who “accelerated in contacts” “had a lot of body trouble” and “needed a refresh”.
Captain Scott Barrett will move from lock to blindside flanker, with fellow All Black Ethan Blackadder named at number 8. Rookie lock Zach Gallagher returns on the second row alongside Sam Whitelock.
Ricky Jackson gets the nod to Shilo Klein to replace test hooker Codie Taylor, who Robertson expects to be back “within weeks” from a rib injury.
All Blacks stars Richie Mo’unga and Will Jordan will also get the weekend off, with Fergus Burke starting at number 10 and younger Chay Fihaki at fullback.
Center Braydon Ennor will play its 50th game with Jack Goodhue moving into second five-eighth.
Leicester Fainga’anuku returns to the left wing after being reserve for last week’s clinical 36-27 win over the Brumbies.
AT A GLANCE
Crusaders team will play against Fijian Drua in Christchurch on Friday.
Chay Fihaki, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Fergus Burke, Bryn Hall, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Scott Barrett (c), Sam Whitelock, Zach Gallagher, Fletcher Newell, Ricky Jackson, Finlay Brewis. Reserves: Shilo Klein, Tamaiti Williams, Oli Jager, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Mitch Drummond, Simon Hickey, George Bridge.
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