Sport Rugby

Thursday 14 December 2017

'We're out to put their main players in the ground'

Northampton’s Ken Pisi is unhappy that his brother George will miss the Leinster games ove tip tackle on Tommy Bowe
Northampton’s Ken Pisi is unhappy that his brother George will miss the Leinster games ove tip tackle on Tommy Bowe
Tommy Bowe tackled by George Pisi
David Kelly

David Kelly

His earliest sporting memories are sepia-tinted.

And if they are tinged with pain, it is only the physical reminders of being the second youngest of four boisterous boys.

"I used to be a tackling bag!" smiles Northampton Saints' Ken Pisi.

The flying winger should be playing with one of his older brothers – George, a key figure of Saints' 2011 Heineken Cup final campaign – were it not for one of the IRB's occasionally errant disciplinary judgments.

Few who saw Pisi the elder up-end Tommy Bowe in Lansdowne Road last month decreed it worthy of a six-week ban. Alas, for those anticipating keenly a unique fraternal clash between Samoan and Celtic brotherhood, a rousting joust between the Kearney and Pisi clans, one of the quartet will be missing.

"It was a bit harsh but at the end of the day that's the judgment and you have to live with it," says Pisi the younger (24). "George is just biding his time and hopefully he can still have a role to play in our European campaign."

FASCINATING

The Kearney brothers held the upper hand in this fascinating culture clash on the international stage last month; debutant Dave was supplied with a scoring pass for one of his brace of tries by his older brother.

Regrettably, Ken did not make the Samoan line-up; instead it was left to the gifted out-half Tusi to join George in a thrilling, albeit weakened back-line.

Samoa were ranked ahead of Ireland at the first whistle; more than two hours later, and with the unfortunate Tusi seeing birds after a horrific concussive impact with a colleague, they were sliding into familiar Tier Two territory after a 45-10 trimming.

Ken arrived into the team for only his second cap against Georgia a fortnight later – as per usual, the islanders were given a frankly risible schedule of games, as if to penalise them for having the temerity to shoot up the IRB's rankings. Sadly, they lost.

"That's rugby, you know," he says resignedly. "You have to play everyone once and I guess it was our turn to play Georgia. It's annoying we don't get to appear in the shop window. We had a few injuries against Ireland but that's no excuse. We had a few chances and we didn't take them. As a team, we can't afford to give Ireland such breathing space and that's what happened.

"So they showed what they could do against us. And we know that Leinster will have quite a lot of the same players facing us again in these two matches. So we have been warned.

"And it will be exciting to play against the Kearney brothers! We've highlighted a few of their main players and our guys are hoping to put them in the ground!"

That attachment of family is so integral to the sport of rugby union. Fifty sets of brothers have played for Ireland, including 11 families where three brothers have worn the green jersey.

The Pisis are another of that rare breed, now that all three have represented the land of their parents' birth. Tusi and George were born in Samoa but by the time Ken came along, their parents had moved from Apia to Auckland for financial reasons.

The younger brother lost nothing in the exchange.

"Rugby was always there growing up," he recalls. "It was the only thing we knew in our street. All the kids would gather up in the street and play rugby. And if the kids weren't around, me and my brothers played in the backyard. That's where I used to get bullied. But hey, these things toughen you up. And now I can bully my own brother back in return!"

He swiftly established himself as a youth, featuring against two of his future clubmates – Calum Clark and Courtney Lawes – in the 2009 IRB Junior World Championship final for the victorious All Blacks, alongside one Aaron Cruden amongst others.

He spent five years at North Harbour, from where both his brothers had graduated, and, as is the aspiration of anyone who breathes air in that part of the world, the New Zealand-born man coveted a black jersey.

"I dreamed of being an All Black," he admits. "But later on I wanted to give something back to my parents and the community I came from originally, so I decided to play for Samoa."

Coming to Northampton features in few southern hemisphere dreams, one suspects. But after the outstanding success enjoyed by George, Ken barely hesitated when asked by Jim Mallinder to replace the sizeable vacancy bequeathed by Chris Ashton, and the Saints have been impressed with him.

"He is fast and physical and has good rugby awareness and handling skills," notes Mallinder. "He can slot into a number of positions."

Former Saint and England international Jon Sleightholme says Ashton's absence has rarely been felt, given Pisi's increasing influence since joining the club two summers ago.

"Ken is starting to make as big an impact as his brother once did," he says. "He is not the out-and-out quickest winger around, but he has great footwork and has the habit, like his brother, of making something happen every time he gets his hands on the ball."

When Pisi speaks of Northampton, he speaks as if of home. "It's a real close-kit community and it reminds me of home," he says. "And also the way we bond as a country with Samoa. That intimacy really appeals to me. It's the essence of a club really."

The band of brothers may be temporarily dispersed but the Saints' family will provide its own strength over the next fortnight.

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