Return to NZ on cards for more mature Fekitoa

Malakai Fekitoa
Malakai Fekitoa
Malakai Fekitoa is still dreaming of the All Blacks and Highlanders but will have to take a big pay cut to fulfil that ambition.

Fekitoa told the Herald over the weekend he thinks during his time in New Zealand he took himself too seriously and thought too much about the game.

The big centre signed a two-year deal with Toulon in France and has just started the second year, helping set up a try in the weekend's win over Agen.

The 26-year-old believes his game has evolved in France and it has taught him how to release all-consuming negative emotions that often burdened and stifled natural instincts.

''Being at home, you focus too much on rugby, and you're too hard on yourself most of the time,'' Fekitoa said.

''That's what I've learned coming here, to enjoy rugby again.

''It's not just me that has been through that. All the young guys coming through are always trying to be better every day. That's a great thing but you can lose enjoyment. I get to realise there's more to life than rugby.

''I feel I'm a lot better because at home, I tried really hard and sometimes things didn't go my way.

''You go into your shell, you hide, and you go down and down because of your thoughts. It's the pressure, too.

''Now I'm older, I've learned to have a life balance. I just wish I knew what I know now. The way I approach things now is different from before. That's why I believe I'm better because I'm more comfortable.''

Fekitoa played 24 tests from 2014 to 2017, and played 66 games for the Highlanders in four years, scoring 20 tries for the southern franchise.

The Tongan-born player is pondering his next move and whether it includes heading back to New Zealand.

''I have a plan, and in the next few months, it will come out. I can stay here and play as long as I can, or I return home and take what I've learned. As you get older, you grow and get better as a midfielder. ''Most people wouldn't believe that but I believe in myself and if I work hard, I know anything is possible.''

Should he decide to leave France, Fekitoa would, initially at least, have to give up around $700,000 in salary. Such a sacrifice would be a signal of intent.

''I'll just see what team would help my rugby more. The Highlanders in the last four years was really good for me. The way they play the game suits me.

''I've looked back at how I played. I had tunnel vision. I learned new things here about how to run lines and how to give myself time to make decisions.

''I wish I had that when I was at home. I was trying to beat everyone up rather than letting the ball beat the man. Maybe the Highlanders will help but we'll see what happens. For now, I just have to focus on getting a good start and make sure everyone is happy with me in France before I decide where to go.''

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark could not be contacted yesterday but has never closed the door on Fekitoa. Fekitoa was a fine defensive centre for the Highlanders and a sharper attacking edge would be an attractive option for the Highlanders and New Zealand Rugby.

- Staff reporter

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