The man of the moment Piri Weepu (Reuters)
By Michael Oliver
Piri Weepu moseyed along the touchline at Hurricanes training squirting his team mates with a water bottle.
It was late in the Super Rugby season of 2006, and the Hurricanes squad was looking forward to a torrid clash with the Waratahs to reel in a home semi-final.
I was on assignment for student magazine Salient, asked to nab a few quick words from juggernaut Jerry Collins, but found myself out on a limb when the big man pulled up sore after his warm down.
(Jerry’s warm down, incidentally, involved dragging a sleigh of weights from try line to try line half a dozen times.)
“Boyo! Dig in!” Weepu yelled across the pitch, before squirting a passing Jimmy Gopperth. “Oh whoops.”
“Oi Piri,” one of the team’s trainers asked. “You up to something?”
“Nah,” the halfback replied. “Too busy having fun.”
His critics say it’s an attitude problem, that he simply hasn’t the mental stock to fit it at the top level. He’s a menace. He’s a rogue. He’s bad for business. He’s an egg.
But Piri Weepu’s none of those things. He’s precisely what the All Blacks need.
One of the great curiosities to emerge before the start of the Rugby World Cup was how few times the word “fun” was used. The sheer pleasure of being the hosts of the World Cup dance got lost in a shuffle of things like 1987, Cardiff, “Four more years!” and a nightmarish swag of injuries.
This doesn’t seem to worry the Rock of Gibraltar in the number nine jumper. It’s all just a bit of a game, just a bit of a laugh.
It’s a serious game, and a serious laugh, mind. And Weepu would be first to recognise the enormity of what lies at Eden Park on Sunday.
It should come as no surprise that cometh the hour, the man doth come. Weepu’s 21 point haul in last Sunday’s quarter final came on the back of almost a full 80 minutes of footy, a satisfying rebuke to those who’ve lambasted his fitness.
Upon Colin Slade’s miserable departure, the man from Wainui stepped up to the fore and commanded the All Black line with aplomb. “The General Director of the All Blacks” some cheered.
It was exactly the sort of performance this edgy country needed to see.
But now is a time for cool heads. Now is the time to cease over-thinking, and to ride the wave of pleasure from playing knockout sport.
If the All Blacks are serious about winning the Rugby World Cup, they could do much worse than enjoy the moment.
This is the time for sporting heroes. Hand that Weepu guy a water bottle, he’s got some fun to have.