It is one of the crazier sliding doors moments as a chance encounter in a Fiji resort lobby has led to Pita Gus Sowakula being on the verge of All Blacks selection. Jim Kayes explains.
Pita Gus Sowakula was a part time pastry chef at the Hideaway Resort on Fiji’s Coral Coast when he was stopped by a stranger as walked through reception one afternoon.
“This guy who was checking out asked if I played rugby,” Sowakula says. “I told him I played for the resort sevens team.”
That man was Dion Smith, a Sydney based New Zealander who worked as a player agent. He asked Sowakula if he wanted to play abroad and if he had ever thought about playing in Taranaki.
“I didn’t even know where Taranaki was,” Sowakula laughs.
He was about to find out as he was recruited without anyone having seen him play, leaving Michael Collins, who had hatched this rather outlandish scheme, waiting to see who walked through the arrivals gate at New Plymouth Airport.
“We were looking for athletes from other sports and we brought him over knowing he’d played basketball and rugby, but yeah, we hadn’t seen him play.“It was an educated punt. We were looking for athletes -people with height and athleticism. We actually needed a lock and Dion told us Pita was a lock, but he was more of a loose forward.”
Sowakula could not have timed his arrival any better as Collins, who is now CEO of the Chiefs, was head coach at New Plymouth’s Spotswood United Rugby Club but about to become CEO of the Taranaki Rugby Union.
“The first time I met him he came in with that big beaming smile of his and told me he could play six, No8 and fullback. He did play on the wing for the development side, but we knew he was a loose forward.”
That was in 2015 and within two years Sowakula had cracked the Taranaki team and a year later he was in the Chiefs.
Now many are suggesting he should be named in the All Blacks to take on Ireland in July.“
He’s certainly put himself in the shop window,” Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan says. “Anyone who is playing Super Rugby and having a big influence on their team and how they are performing should be in the shop window.“
You never like to think the All Blacks are a closed shop and that there is room for those who impress through Super Rugby. I’d like to think that he is at least in the discussion.”
Sowakula was born in Lautoka and, though he has five brothers and two sisters, he was brought up as an only child by an aunt and uncle, in a typically rugby-mad family
Continue this story in our Jun/ July issue.
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