Welsh rugby needs overseas talent to thrive says Wales’ New Zealand-born centre

 Credit: Alamy

Credit: Alamy

Willis Halaholo may have been born and raised in New Zealand but he has made Wales his home and believes that players like him have been critical in the development of youngsters.

The talented centre spent two seasons at the Hurricanes before signing for Cardiff in 2016, forming a superb partnership with Rey Lee-Lo.

He then qualified for the country via residency and made his international debut in 2021, helping Wayne Pivac’s men to the Six Nations title.

Halaholo therefore insists that passing on that experience – having come from New Zealand to play in Wales and then for the national team – would have benefited the academy players coming through.

Acting as mentors

“The teams in Wales who have been successful, they’ve had quality and experienced overseas players who have played in different environments,” he told WalesOnline.

“Years ago there was a strong batch of overseas players in Wales like Jerry Collins, Marty Holah and Xavier Rush who mentored young Welsh players, and as a result these Welsh players went on to star at international level.

“I’m sure most of them would tell you a lot of their mentors, and people who they’ve modelled their game on, are those players who have come from different environments.

“Also, that’s another reason I wanted to stay at Cardiff. Me and Rey have built a good relationship with a lot of the young boys and we see so much potential in them.

“We don’t want that to be damaged by them getting thrown out there against teams like Leinster or the Stormers before they are ready.

“You don’t want to see their confidence take a hit, especially in a World Cup year where they will have lots of their senior players missing with Wales. I feel like it would be beneficial to have some more senior experienced players around to help them out and guide them.”

Halaholo earned 10 caps for Wales, with his final appearance coming in March 2022 against Italy.

He played the first few rounds of the 2022/23 United Rugby Championship season but the centre sustained a hamstring injury before he ruptured his Achilles, ruling him out of the rest of the campaign.

Dispute with WRU

It came at just the wrong time for the Cardiff back with the Welsh Rugby Union’s financial issues coming to a head.

Players threatened to strike as the WRU and the regions failed to agree a budget for the forthcoming seasons.

The issue was gradually sorted but it left some individuals, including Halaholo, in the lurch.

“Personally for me it was really tough as I got injured last October so it was hard for me to have a say in anything,” he said. “I think we needed more clarity as players and it felt like everyone was on different pages.

“The players were being told one thing and then the WRPA [Welsh Rugby Players’ Association] was saying something else. It was a hard time for everyone involved, especially the boys out of contract.

“A lot of us players who are from the Pacific Islands have a lot of cultural responsibilities back home. That’s the hard part about this situation.

“I’m not taking anything away from the Welsh boys who are out of contract but from my family’s point of view we have no support network in Wales to fall back on.

“A lot of boys can go to family members’ houses or get support from family who are within driving distance, or can look after the kids while you sort out things.

“Right now we have to juggle everything while having no support. Phil Davies [personal development manager] from the WRPA has been a huge help but there’s only so much he can do.”

Halaholo’s next step

Halaholo is 33 and without a club but the centre still feels he has plenty to offer the game in a playing capacity.

The former Hurricanes man has a preference for France but would not be against staying in Wales if the offer is right.

“Watching the Top 14, I think that would suit the way I play,” he added. “I love playing heads-up rugby, having a go and throwing the ball about.

“If I’m lucky enough to get an opportunity to play in France I think you’ll see the best in me, but having said that I wouldn’t be against staying in Wales. I appreciate the current financial struggles of the regions but I’d be willing to compromise with regards salary to help the club out.

“I would like to put the red jersey on again so I can finish on a high note because the last time I played for Wales we lost to Italy, and that doesn’t sit well with me.”

READ MORE: Alun Wyn Jones could not ‘refuse’ the chance to realise his Top 14 dream

The article Welsh rugby needs overseas talent to thrive says Wales’ New Zealand-born centre appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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