Twenty-four youths from across New Zealand have left Christchurch this afternoon bound for France to play in the inaugural Rugby Heritage Cup.
The global sevens tournament, featuring 700 players from over 20 nations, is set to become a legacy event held in conjunction with future Rugby World Cups.
It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Kiwis who are attending so who better to present them with their jerseys than All Blacks legend Richie McCaw?
McCaw joked he felt “small” standing next to Wellington’s Nelson Tiamalu who told 1News he wants to use the experience as a springboard.
“Just the experience, being out of the country,” Nelson said.
“Playing against other nations is a big thing.”
It’s a similar feeling for 14-year-old Aucklander Keanu Simpson who is also in the team.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool, at such a young age to get to go France and play for New Zealand is a cool opportunity,” Keanu added.
“I love it – get to represent my family, it means a lot to me.”
McCaw reiterated those thoughts with some parting words of advice to the squad.
“The big thing is, first of all, appreciate the opportunity but then make the most of that opportunity because I can guarantee the next 10 days, the memories and experiences you pick up, you’ll remember for a long time.”
The two under-15s teams were largely funded by the NZ Rugby Players Association in partnership with Condor 7s, allowing players who otherwise might not have had a chance to go after being nominated by teachers or parents and chosen for their character, rather than talent.
One of the head organisers from Condor 7s, Sonny Rainer, said “character” was crucial for the trip.
“It wasn’t really about the rugby,” Rainer said.
“Rugby’s a part of it but most of it was about the individual themselves and how they represented their family and how they wanted to represent New Zealand.”
What makes the tournament unique is the effort that will be done off the field as well with activities around leadership and personal growth on the cards.
“They’ll actually be able to see it first-hand… [some] people haven’t even gone on a plane before,” NZRPA Player Representation Advisor Ashley Stanley added.
“And you’re immersed in another culture, meet different people, you meet a whole new group of people from across New Zealand who you might not have met before.” but rugby has brought them together.”
She’s not wrong – the squad has only just spent the last 24 hours together ahead of their life-changing journey but while they’re still getting to know each other, Stanley said there’s one thing they can fall back on.
“Rugby has brought them together.”