IT HAS NOT taken long for World Cup-winning All Black, Piri Weepu to go from hero to a subject of derision in New Zealand.
Weepu has been forced to defend his weightier physique since arriving for Auckland Blues’ pre-season training.
Despite assembling a squad with eight members of New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup winning contingent, coach Pat Lam has been at a loss to explain the Blues’ woeful start. They have won only one of their opening seven matches.
The former Hurricanes Number 9 emerged as an unlikely hero at the World Cup when he took over the kicking duties from the injured Dan Carter.
He was the man-of-the-match in the All Black’s quarter-final win over Argentina and overcame uncertain starts to contribute in victories over Australia and France.
That man Mealamu
The Blues website officially lists Weepu as 94kg, similar to the figure posted by New Zealand when they announced their World Cup squad, but the issue of the scrum-half’s weight was made public by captain Keven Mealamu.
Mealamu, the man who teamed up with Tana Umaga to ‘spear tackle’ Brian O’Driscoll in the 2005 Lions tour, told New Zealand’s Radio Sport:
He’s probably not in the top condition that he’s been in in his career and that’s what we really need from him, to be at that top fitness level.
Weepu’s mother, Kura, defended her son for not being in ‘great shape’ after three months off and suggested that the form of one player, rather than the team, should not be the issue.
The comments sparked a wave of criticism for Weepu – such as #fatty – on Twitter (as seen below). Weepu was quick to respond:
Ma’a Nonu came out in defence of his Blues and New Zealand team-mate, pointing out that the 28-year-old had ‘a few injuries’ tht the public was not aware of. Nonu added:
But Pow (Weepu) has had an ongoing issue with his weight and that goes toe to toe with his injuries. But he is slowly working into the season.
For his part, Weepu attempted to address the matter when he spoke to reporters before Friday’s 29-23 loss to the Sharks.
He said, “Obviously I’m a bit disappointed in coming back the way I did, but I’m not looking backwards anymore. When I got here I was a bit out of shape but I’ve made gains on that. I’m continually doing that and moving forward.”