Saturday 16 November 2019

Bringing some Maori passion to blue jersey

Hayden Triggs paid a visit to Leinster Rugby headquarters at Belfield yesterday
Hayden Triggs paid a visit to Leinster Rugby headquarters at Belfield yesterday
Hayden Triggs in action for North Harbour during the ITM Cup against Bay Of Plenty last year

Marcus Ó Buachalla

He is in the country less than 24 hours but new Leinster Rugby signing Hayden Triggs has already met his new team-mates and has trained for the first time. Jet-lagged he may be but he is keen to get up to speed and acquainted with his new surroundings. His first impressions?

"Professional. Intense. But very friendly! Three good ones to start with!"

He has come to Leinster Rugby looking for a new challenge having played 64 Super Rugby games with the Hurricanes, the Highlanders, the Chiefs and, most recently, the Auckland Blues who he represented on 24 occasions since joining in 2014. He is swapping one blue jersey for another.

"Logistically it's pretty straightforward. We arrived at four o'clock yesterday afternoon and we're staying in Donnybrook around the corner from Leo. So we've just six bags, easy little packages, so it's actually not too bad. Don't get me wrong, we are starting from scratch and that's pretty daunting landing into a place like that but it's massively exciting too to be setting up here."

The 'we' refers to wife Michaela and daughter Adelaide (7) and son August (3). A big adventure for the little ones but right now, dad has to go to work.


"My first challenge is to get on the field. Obviously I'm aware of the lads being away at the Rugby World Cup and the opportunity that's here but I just want to get my basics right first, get the respect of the coaches and my team-mates and work hard for that jersey. I know the club and the history and I want to be a part of that but I'm under no illusions either. The hard work starts now."

Despite the challenges the nine-times-capped Maori All Black is massively enthused by the decision and what that means for his young family.

"To be living in Dublin, on the other side of the world and we have heard nothing but great things. Apart from the rugby, we are keen to meet the people, see the sights and take it all in. We've also heard it's a great starting point for other trips to European cities but first things first…we just want a house! Small steps!"

A quick trawl through the Hayden Triggs YouTube highlights reel is interesting. Plenty of action footage for his club sides but there are also plenty of clips of the 17-stone second-row representing the Maori All Blacks, including one famous Haka against Ireland in the summer of 2010.

The passion he has for the Maori jersey is clear when he mentions in a 2014 piece for TV that "there is no such thing as being too hyped up when wearing this jersey. We are warrior people. The legacy of that jersey and the people that have gone before us is one of exciting, physical and emotional rugby so we just want to embrace that."

He made two appearances for the Maori All Blacks against Ireland in 2007 and 2010. The pride in his people again shines through.

"I'd hark back to 2010 mostly. The 2010 Centenary Series. That was a celebration of 100 years of Maori Rugby so it was a massive honour to be selected. Over the three weeks we visited all the cultural centres of New Zealand. It was a massively emotional three weeks off the pitch and I think we did ourselves justice on it too.

"We took some big scalps and Ireland was our first international that series. That 2010 Series was a massive step for Maori rugby and Maori people. It was a start of sorts. It's grown massively since that year. Obviously Maori rugby has been around before that but this kick started another level I think."

And his memories of the narrow 31-28 win over Ireland? "It was a great game and both teams wanted to play. And we had a cracking line-up and some of those lads have gone on to bigger and better things for both sides."

In the New Zealand Maori team that evening in Rotorua - now known as the Maori All Blacks - were the likes of Hosea Gear, Liam Messam and current New Zealand scrum-half Aaron Smith.

On the Irish team were Rhys Ruddock, making his first senior start for Ireland, Eoin Reddan, Johnny Sexton and John Fogarty, now scrum coach with Leinster. The bench included Sean Cronin and Rob Kearney. So did any of them stand out?

"Johnny did. It's funny because even though we identified him as a threat and we put a massive focus on him with our defence and tried to shut him down, he still managed to score 23 points against us! A mark of the man and the player and he had a great game that night. Good memories. It will be good to see him again."

Sexton is of course over in Cardiff preparing for a Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday. Triggs has been relatively content with what he has seen so far from the defending champions New Zealand.

"For me I am quietly confident of what the boys are capable of. They are in knockout rugby now. Obviously France is a huge test but I think they're in a good place and in a great position to retain the title."

One of the stories of this World Cup is the performances of the second- and third-tier teams. Is there an appreciation for the work of these nations in New Zealand?


"I'd be aware of it but I'm not sure if your average fan is. Obviously I played in Japan for a while before joining the Auckland Blues so I am familiar with the work being done in rugby there. They will have a Super Rugby team soon and that win over South Africa will do them the world of good. Eddie Jones, their head coach, he is really driving it and of course then they have the next Rugby World Cup in 2019 in Japan so the opportunity is there for them to kick on."

Triggs has been busy lately - those six bags wouldn't pack themselves - but he has seen some of the Rugby World Cup action and what he has seen of Ireland and some of his soon-to-be team-mates, he has liked.

"If I can have a next best team I'll go with Ireland, definitely. They play a good brand of winning rugby and I think they are in a good place but they have it all to do yet and obviously they are missing guys on Sunday. But that presents opportunities for others and in a World Cup those are the moments that players wait for and hopefully make the most of."

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