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For the past few years, Sene Naoupu has been busy in Ireland as vice-captain of the national women’s team and representing Leinster Rugby, but recently made a "challenging" trip back to New Zealand to visit family.
Life in Ireland was extreme compared with New Zealand.
That contrast gave her a special appreciation for the time she was able to have with family in Oamaru.
"I hope New Zealanders don’t take things for granted coming into the new year. It’s a completely different world over in Europe".
She was used to being vigilant, washing hands often.
Rugby procedures had become strict in order for her team to keep playing.
Coming back to New Zealand, she was able to train freely and found herself surrounded by people in public.
"Hopefully, the rest of the world will be able to experience this soon, too."
Originally scheduled to compete in the Rugby World Cup qualifiers in December 2020, Naoupu (36) jumped at the opportunity to return home when the games were postponed until December 2021.
She was happy to see New Zealanders enjoying the "fruits of their labour following a vigorous and courageous lockdown".
"My niece was able to graduate from the University of Canterbury, and my other nieces in Oamaru were able to receive their excellence awards."
Of the thousands of New Zealanders around the world hoping to get home, Naoupu counted herself lucky.
"Never take for granted the opportunities to see your family. There are families within the same country who can’t see one another because of Covid-19."
She arrived in New Zealand at the beginning of December, but getting home was not just about buying a ticket. It also hinged on available spaces at a managed isolation quarantine facility, where most are booked months in advance.
With the help of her brother in Christchurch and two sisters in Oamaru, Naoupu scoured bookings for cancellations and spaces to become available.
She was last in Oamaru in 2019 to support her sister Hana Halalele’s inauguration into the Waitaki District Council.