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09th Aug 2022

“I remember just hugging this Irish guy” – How one Kiwi rugby star reacted to Ireland’s historic series win

Patrick McCarry

“It’s probably bad for someone that wants to be an All Black, to be saying that!”

New Zealand have slipped to fifth in the World Rugby rankings, down one from their lowest ever position of fourth after Ireland beat them in a three-Test series, in June.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster then took his side to South Africa and tried to stress they had put in an ‘improved performance’ after losing their Rugby Championship opener 26-10.

There are a raft of issues with the current New Zealand side and defeat in their next game out would be their sixth in seven games. It would likely spell the end of Foster’s six-year reign as ABs head coach.

The All Blacks then have Argentina and Australia coming up in The Rugby Championship and there may be fresh faces brought in as the team looks to get their act together for the 2023 World Cup. Chiefs lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi is hoping to crack the New Zealand squad in the near future, and join former U20 teammates Tupou Vaa’i, Cullen Grace, Quinn Tupaea and Leicester Fainga’anuku in playing Test rugby.

“When I first started footy,” he tells us, “making it pro felt like the goal, but the All Blacks felt like a massive pipe-dream. Once my peers started making All Blacks squads, I was thinking I could really do this, too. I’ve always wanted to be an All Black, and that is the next goal for me.”

Although it would be his greatest honour to kit out and line-up for the All Blacks, that did not stop him from hugging it out with an ecstatic Irish fan after the recent Test Series against Andy Farrell’s team.

Naitoa Ah Kuoi of the Chiefs pictured at FMG Stadium Waikato, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

‘Good on you guys. That’s awesome’

Naitoa Uh Kuoi is currently playing domestic rugby up in Tauranga with the Bay of Plenty Steamers, after recently finishing up his latest Super Rugby campaign with the Chiefs.

Although he wants to see New Zealand back on a winning track as a matter of urgency, he says the sheer joy of Irish fans celebrating the Test series win over the All Blacks gave him a greater appreciation of how much it means to topple the three-time world champions.

“Us losing to Ireland is probably good for world rugby,” he says. “At the same time, I’m a happy guy so I’m just thinking, ‘Shit, good on you guys! That’s awesome, that you guys are creating history’.

“Even if that is at the expense of New Zealand, I always put myself in the shoes of the Irish fans, and you can see that it’s unreal for them.

“I went to the Irish pub to watch the Third Test with a teammate of mine here, Kurt Eklund, who plays for the Blues. For me, I was just there to watch the game and enjoy the whole experience.

“It was awesome to see the Irish people smiling and having a good time. When they won, I remember just hugging this Irish guy. He was saying, ‘Man, you guys are such nice people’. I was just saying congratulations and he, honestly, was in disbelief. I remember thinking, ‘That guy is so happy, so I’m happy for him’.

“It’s probably bad for someone that wants to be an All Black, to be saying that, but I’m a guy that wants everyone to have a good time. And those Irish guys were someone that haven’t had something like that happen to them and, to see the smiles on their faces was awesome.”

Brodie Retallick’s broken cheekbone has him out of action for the foreseeable, with Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett the current locks. For now, Ah Kuoi will keep plugging away with Bay of Plenty and doing all he can to stay ready, in case the big call comes.

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