He made the New Zealand U20s for the first time last year and went on to play three matches for the Wellington Lions in the NPC, but Petone tighthead prop Kaliopasi (Pasi) Uluilakepa freely admits he wasn’t playing to his potential last year.
“There were a lot of expectations that the coaches had for me because I made those teams in my first season last year. But at the same time 2018 wasn’t really the best year for me. I wasn’t very disciplined in my eating and my weight was too high. I think I zoned out a bit, but I am trying to get back on track now,” Pasi explains.
After having an earnest talk with Wellington Lions coach Gibbo [Chris Gibbes] he realised
he had to make a change and refocus. “Not just because I was being told off, but the reason I came to Wellington was to pursue a rugby career.”
Pasi was weighing 148kg towards the end of last season. Off his own steam, he went away and sought diet and nutritional help and he is currently 131kg and feeling fitter and energised.
“I feel better now, but I still want to lose more and my goal is to get to 125kg. I want to keep improving and to try and make the Hurricanes.”
Pasi has recently been re-selected in the New Zealand U20s for the second time for the upcoming Oceania Rugby U20 Championship on the Gold Coast, and he is hoping to make the final squad for this year’s U20 World Cup in Argentina in June.
Pasi and the other Wellington players in the team, Taine Plumtree (Old Boys University) and Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Marist St Pat’s) join their NZ U20s teammates in Auckland this Saturday for a two-day camp and season launch and then head over to the Gold Coast for the tournament against Fiji, Japan and Australia.
Against Fiji, he might be up against some of his old contemporaries, having spent much of his teenaged years in Fiji and attending Marist Brothers High School in Suva.
In 2016 he toured New Zealand with Fiji Schools and played against the NZ Barbarians Schools (scoring a try in that match) and the New Zealand Schools in matches in Auckland.
Whilst at school in Fiji, his school’s First XV made the Fijian national schools final for the Deans Trophy twice but lost both deciders. He also represented Marist Brothers in athletics and broke the Fiji Schools Intermediate Shot Put record.
Pasi was born in Auckland and spent most of his childhood in Tonga and Samoa (for one year) before living in Fiji for high school years 11 to 13, and now Wellington.
“My father is a pastor, and we moved around a bit. Last year my parents were in Samoa but they are back in Fiji now.”
After leaving school, he came to Wellington and to the Petone club. How did that come about?
“I already had some links in Fiji with Alan Muir. I then had a talk with Darren Larsen who came to Fiji to watch our Fiji schools finals. At the time he was the Wellington Rugby Academy manager [currently Hurricanes Development/U20s coach]. He saw I had potential and he invited me to Wellington and to Petone.”
As well as playing 11 games for the Premiers in his first year, he spent much of 2017 in the Petone Colts, helping them to the Colts Division 1 first and second round titles. He played a starring role in the John E Kelly Cup Colts final, scoring two tries as Petone came from 3-20 down to beat Old Boys University 36-20.
He played for the Hurricanes U18s that year, scoring a try in their 25-10 win over their Crusaders counterparts at Westpac Stadium, and also for the Wellington U19 at the national tournament in Taupo.
He played eight games for the Petone Premiers last season around NZ U20s commitments and so far this year has played all four Swindale Shield games for the Villagers in 2019.
Petone started 2019 with a 41-22 win over Tawa, followed by a 13-18 loss to Wainuiomata and then two consecutive draws with Norths, 19-19 and Marist St Pat’s, 24-24.
Pasi agrees these last three results have been frustrating, following an emphatic opening win at Lyndhurst Park. “But the start of this year has been better than what it was last year – so credit to the boys for staying in there and the effort they have put in. Especially as the four teams we have come up against so far are all good teams.”
It doesn’t get any easier for Petone in the coming fortnight in Pasi’s absence with the New Zealand U20s, playing Old Boys University this weekend and then Hutt Old Boys Marist next week for the McBain Shield.
As well as training and playing rugby, Pasi has been working part-time delivering meat in the Petone area.