Wednesday 29 March 2017

New Zealand stars try their hand at hurling ahead of match

All Blacks Charlie Faumuina, Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith with children during a visit to Seapoint Rugby Club Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
All Blacks Charlie Faumuina, Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith with children during a visit to Seapoint Rugby Club Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Ryan Nugent

When Joe Brolly compared the Dublin footballers to New Zealand rugby during the summer, saying "they come to play", it's doubtful he also envisaged the All Blacks playing hurling.

But that's exactly what a lucky group of school children in Dublin's north-inner city got to witness yesterday.

All Black Aaron Smith at Seapoint Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
All Black Aaron Smith at Seapoint Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

They rugby giants may be better off sticking to the day job, but at least they tried.

Checking out the ancient sport after arriving in an all-black bus, of course, were stars Israel Dagg, Ardie Savea Aaron Cruden, Codie Taylor, Waisake Naholo and Scott Barrett.

Barrett may have had a slight head start on his teammates, having lived in Ireland for 18 months as a child.

Aged seven, he moved to Ireland with his family - although his memory of it all was a touch hazy.

Noel Ryan (11) shows Aaron Cruden how to hurl at St Laurence O'Toole's on Sheriff Street. Photo: Frank McGrath
Noel Ryan (11) shows Aaron Cruden how to hurl at St Laurence O'Toole's on Sheriff Street. Photo: Frank McGrath

Awesome

"I lived in Oldcastle in Meath. It was pretty awesome.

"I can't remember too much about it, I was pretty young," he said.

"I still have friends, I caught up with a few as we were staying in Castleknock (the team's training base)," he added.

Cian Fuller is caught by All Black Ardie Savea at St Laurence O'Toole's CBS Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Cian Fuller is caught by All Black Ardie Savea at St Laurence O'Toole's CBS Photo: Frank Mc Grath

If Barrett had a couple of friends when he arrived in Dublin at the start of the week, it's safe to say he and his teammates have acquired many more after their latest visit.

But first, they were tasked with facing a Haka with a twist. The boys and girls at the St Laurence O'Toole's school gave a lung-bursting rendition of 'Lamha Suas' - and it was a strange feeling for the All Blacks to have to face a war cry.

Barrett (23) said he hasn't had to face that since his school days, when young teams would both face up to each other before a match kicked off.

After teaching the kids some tips and tricks of their sport, and then trying and failing to strike the sliotar at goal, the All Blacks even found time to take questions from some very eager children.

All Black Sam Whitelock with Maya Keegan (7) and her baby brother Jonah Photo: Naoise Culhane
All Black Sam Whitelock with Maya Keegan (7) and her baby brother Jonah Photo: Naoise Culhane

They were joined at the top of the stage by some Dublin GAA stars, including Bernard Brogan, as part of AIG's Heroes initiative.

For once, the All-Ireland champions were playing second fiddle.

One excited youngster, asked New Zealand hooker Taylor what he eats to stay in shape.

If his response was to be believed, the Ireland team will have little to worry about this evening. "Lots of Weetabix...and sometimes McDonald's," he replied, tongue firmly in cheek.

The whole event left the Kiwis humbled.

"It's awesome, there's a buzz and excitement from the kids over here. They're jumping out of their skin to play alongside us and that's pretty cool," said Barrett.

"When you walk into the room, you can definitely see it in their eyes."

Elsewhere in the capital, at Seapoint Rugby Club, Killiney, another group of All Blacks had the pleasure of facing the Haka, this time in Irish.

And as it wrapped up, one infant got more than he bargained for. Little Jonah Keegan was scooped tenderly into the arms of All Blacks star Sam Whitelock.

It was a special moment at Seapoint as the two-month-old infant was named in honour rugby legend Jonah Lomu, and it was the first anniversary of the New Zealand star's death.

"Jonah Lomu was my hero," said the baby's proud father Brian Keegan (35), a first-team player for Seapoint who coaches juvenile members.

Whitelock (28) said he was glad to meet the little guy.

Fierce

But it was an unforgettable event too for Jonah's sister Maya (7), who led a Haka dance by juvenile club members to welcome All Blacks to their grounds.

Delighted mum Julie Keegan said: "Maya was practising the Haka in front of the mirror. She's wanted to look fierce."

The towering Whitelock and team-mates Charlie Faumuina, Aaron Smith, and Joe Moody instructed club members aged from seven to 12 years old in the finer points of playing rugby.

The coaching session was part of the All Blacks' commitment to the Unicef Right To Play initiative, which spotlights the crucial role of sport in childhood development worldwide.

"The children are more skilful than I was at that age," said Whitelock.

"I think with the Gaelic [football], they are outstanding with the ball and their kicking.

"Their handling is great too," he said.

Team mate Faumuina said the children were "awesome."

Kate Giblin (12) said the rugby stars were "amazing".

Under-11 coach Paul Chambers said "they passed on useful knowledge".

He added: "My son Zenon sidestepped Aaron Smith good and proper. A proud moment for me."

Let's hope Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and company can do the same.

Irish Independent

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