Welcome to England - Weepu's debut is one to forget

  • Rugby
  • Monday, 08 Sep 2014

New Zealand All Blacks Piri Weepu (standing) leads team mates in a Haka before their Bledisloe Cup rugby union test match against Australian Wallabies in Brisbane October 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jason O'Brien

(Reuters) - Mr Fixit, as All Blacks World Cup winner Piri Weepu is known in his homeland, might need putting back together this week.

The veteran scrumhalf swapped New Zealand for English club rugby with London Welsh in the close-season, and was looking forward to his debut for the promoted Premiership team against Exeter on Sunday, his 31st birthday.

But 80 minutes and seven Exeter tries later - Weepu could have been forgiven for feeling a lot older and not much wiser as his new team, who play their home games at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, were thumped 52-0 there in a rotten start to the season for the new-look side.

Weepu, who earned cult status in New Zealand after he helped salvage the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup-winning campaign, "looked well short of optimum fitness", the Guardian reported.

The BBC said Weepu did a good job of "controlling the tempo from scrumhalf" early in the match, but the Telegraph added that "even the experience and guile of the 71-times capped Weepu could make no impact in a side as defensively porous as Welsh were".

Weepu's coach, Justin Burnell, did not mince his words.

"It's pretty straightforward," he said. "We can go home and hide away, or puff our chests out and put a smile back on our faces.

"If you're a professional player, you have to make your tackles, make that final pass and hold on to the ball."

Weepu has left his three children - daughters aged three and four, and a 20-month-old son - in New Zealand to take on the challenge at London Welsh.

In truth, he told the BBC this weekend, he had no other realistic playing options following a minor stroke he suffered earlier this year. Subsequently, he had to undergo surgery to repair a hole in his heart.

Doubtless the scare has allowed Weepu to maintain a perspective unaffected by fluctuating fortunes on the field. On Sunday - father's day in New Zealand - he tweeted: "Today I become ONE (of many) of the richest men in the world. Not rich in money, but rich in unconditional love ... All I need is the love of my kids."

London Welsh were relegated after one season in the top flight in 2012/13 having lost 17 of their 22 games and, despite bringing in 25 new players this year, they already look favourites for a repeat.

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

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