Rugby: Highlanders' newest prop has big past

Packing down at scrum practice is David Te Moana (left) alongside Jason Rutledge (centre) and...
Packing down at scrum practice is David Te Moana (left) alongside Jason Rutledge (centre) and captain Jamie Mackintosh. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Meet David Te Moana. Has boots, will travel. And although he may weigh in at a strapping 130kg, he has been bigger - a lot bigger.

Te Moana, a specialist tighthead prop, who turns 29 today, is one of five props in the Highlanders, and is one of the new boys in the team.

His journey to Dunedin and a professional rugby career was a long and far from straightforward path.

He was brought up on the East Cape, at Waihau Bay, in Eastern Bay of Plenty, and attended Opotiki College.

But there was no first XV for him.

"I didn't play any rugby when I was at school. I was just into being a fun kid. Played a bit of tennis in the summer but no winter codes," he said.

"Then when I was about 18, a few of my mates wanted to play a game of rugby and I had a go, too. That was my first real game of rugby. I was 165kg, so there was only one place I was going to play."

A year later, and with itchy feet, he decided to head to the Gold Coast for a change of lifestyle, working for his uncle's concreting company.

"I was just playing a club game for the Gold Coast Breakers when ex All Black Grant Batty saw what I was doing and and with help from Alex Evans they started working with me. It sort of all went from there."

The kilograms slipped off through some hard training and suddenly a rugby career opened up.

He was drafted into the Reds academy in 2005 in Brisbane and the following year was picked up by the new Western Force team and headed for Perth.

He was seen as the next big thing in Australia, including a chance to play for the Wallabies but Te Moana said he was never fixated on wearing the green and gold.

"I just said I have been given a chance in Australia and want to do the best I can do and chase the highest honour possible. The media saw it as wanting to play for Australia. But it wasn't."

Te Moana played one season with the Force and headed back to the Reds.

He had spent time in between playing for Manawatu in the domestic competition.

At the end of the 2009 season he headed to France to play for Agen.

He lasted just the one year, a casualty of new rules which limited the number of foreign players.

"I was supposed to stay in France for two years but they brought in these new rules which limited foreigners and that was the end for me. We had 22 foreigners in our squad of 40 so someone had to go."

He slipped back into the country, played a couple of games for Wellington last year, under Jamie Joseph, and now finds himself under the same coach with the Highlanders.

"I enjoy it under Jamie, as he is pretty straight with you and tells you the way it is. The whole team wants to improve and not just for the sake of the team but for the sake of the region.

"The pre-season had been pretty good. Although we were behind the eight ball in the last game, we started coming back."

Te Moana, who is flatting with winger Kade Poki, is keen for a starting place with the side and he will be critical at scrum time.

"My whole rugby career has been a bit all over the place. I never really planned to be a professional rugby player. But I was lucky enough to come upon some people who were prepared to put some time into me and things went my way. It was the luck of the draw, really."



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