Rugby in His Genes: Matt Vaega

Mitre 10 Cup Rd 1 - North Harbour v Otago
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In many families, there is a common factor. That might be in looks, height, eye colour or physical attributes. For Matt Vaega, rugby runs through his veins.

Vaega is the son of a International rugby player; To’o Vaega. He is also the brother of two professional rugby players; Cardiff and TJ Vaega, who both play for rivals Hawke’s Bay. So you can certainly see that within this family, sport is a connecting factor.

Matt told Last Word on Rugby that he ‘grew up with rugby’. His father played International rugby for Western Samoa from 1986–well before Matt was born. To’o was a part of the ‘breakout year’ for Samoan rugby, 1991.

In the second-ever Rugby World Cup tournament, Vaega along with players like Brian Lima, Pat Lam and Peter Fatialofa scored a famous victory over Wales 13-16. The famous victory was such an influence, that Matt’s older brothers first name was christened Cardiff, to be a lifetime reminder that rugby flows in the families veins.

Brought Up On a Rugby Diet

“You know growing up, there was old videos. The family would always put it [1991 World Cup] on. It’s always good to remember”. While being brought up on a diet of rugby, young Matt mixed with some of the legends of Polynesian rugby.

“There was a whole bunch of them always coming around. I’d always call them ‘Uncle’ and stuff, and just make them feel like family.”

Many would be inspiration for Matt and his brother Cardiff to idolize. World Cup captain Peter ‘Fats’ Fatialofa especially, was a monumental figure in the game for Samoa, and for Auckland/South Auckland rugby.

To’o Vaega on his way to a try (Photo by Phil O’Brien/EMPICS via Getty Images)

To’o Vaega (see above picture) inspired both his boys to play sport and they attended Kelston Boys High School – the alumni of Sir Graham Henry. While there, Vaega helped the school to lift the World Rugby Youth tournament trophy in Japan.

Rugby in His Genes: Matt Vaega

Today, Matt is a part of the North Harbour rugby team. A key member too, and with a wealth of rugby experience for such a young man. At 23, he has already played four seasons of National Provincial Championship rugby. The Mitre 10 Cup today see’s Vaega and Harbour competing in the Premiership division. An elevated position, over where the Harbour union had found itself in years past.

In 2016, the team from the north shore of Auckland made a claim to rejoin the top flight. They showed a consistency and ambition to reach new heights, and Vaega was an integral part of the Steve Jackson coached side. They reached the final, and in a thrilling finale, triumphed over Otago, 14-17.

That has seen Harbour reach the top flight of domestic rugby. And the winning performance saw Matt Vaega retain a place in the Blues Super Rugby franchise. Not as the starting center, but it has reinforced his understanding of the bright future he can have for his own family, through rugby.

The Blues are also coached by Tana Umaga. A successful former-All Blacks captain, and center. So having someone with such mana around with the Blues, will have been perfect education for the agile center/utility back. Continual learning is critical in a role that saw Umaga and then Ma’a Nonu, dominate World Rugby.

Harbour Victory Over Auckland a Blueprint to Recent Success

LWOR spoke with Matt after a conclusive victory over their neighbours Auckland. Vaega was instrumental in that performance, with three try assists and superb defense.

“It was great to get the win today. There’s a lot of hype about the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ but it’s early days–just move onto the next match.”

And that match was yesterday. Against Counties-Manukau, a close rival on the southside of the Auckland region, who ended up being stiffer competition that the Sunday 50 point win. Vaega and his team mates would face slippery conditions and a determined opposition. But with good management from halfback Bryn Hall, the Harbour side collected another victory.

That win continues the fine start to their 2017 campaign by the newly promoted side. With a team mantra of ‘not done yet’ Vaega knows it is early days.

As far as his career goes, Vaega is committed to the club for the next year. And while being a humble individual, he is a leader in the team. Given responsibilities within the side, that compliments his rugby-brain and consistency.

Harbour Backline One to Fear in Mitre 10 Cup 2017

With his three try assists in that Auckland game, those same statistics may grow even higher in 2017 for Matt Vaega. The Harbour backline is brim-full of talent. Inside Vaega is young center Harrison Groundwater and flyhalf Bryn Gatland. The latter is a dead-eye with his kicking, and they gain good ball from Bryn Hall who has grown in confidence after a season with the title-winning Crusaders.

On the outside is where the fireworks will be seen. Co-captain Matt Duffie is ever improving, in his second full season back from rugby league. Both he and Shaun Stevenson are strong under the high ball. That is now an area where Harbour can be deadly from counter attack, so teams may need to kick more strategically when facing Harbour.

And to cap it off, is Tevita Li. One of the more gifted wingers from North Harbour, he is similar in age and enterprise, as Vaega is. “You can always trust him, he’s gonna be there,” was how Vaega see’s his Massey-club mate.

Mitre 10 Cup Championship Semi Final - Wellington v North Harbour
Tevita Li of North Harbour breaks the Wellington line during the Mitre 10 Cup Championship Semi Final. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“All I need to hear is his voice, and he’ll do his thing.”

It is that instinctive trust that will only develop further over this season, and into the future. The North Harbour union is in a purple-patch right now. New head coach Tom Coventry brings his solid coaching experience, to compliment his assistant and former player Daniel Halangahu.

The coaching group and senior players can be sure that players like Matt Vaega; who has rugby in his genes, are all aiming for the same prize. Respect from the NZ rugby public, and possibly a Premiership title in 2017.


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