Name: Riki John Flutey
Age: 31 (10 Feb 1980)
Born: Featherstone, NZ
Military-run is how I would describe my boarding school. There was a big emphasis on respecting people around you.
I couldn’t get enough of rugby in my teens. I was playing for Te Aute College first XV and if we had a home game, afterwards I’d drive over to play half a game of club rugby at Clive in Hawkes Bay, where my brother played.
Challenging myself is what I liked to do, so when I came home in school holidays I’d also play for the Martinborough men’s side when I was 16.
You grow up pretty quickly playing men’s rugby in New Zealand, although I was glad to have a few of the older guys around me at times.
A great learning experience is how I found playing a lot of my early rugby against people bigger and older than me. I came through the New Zealand age grades on the back of playing against men, which I know is a little different to how it is now in England.
I still have the VHS cassette tape at my mum’s house of the day the New Zealand Maori came to train at our school. I became a TV reporter for the day, interviewing Adrian Cashmore and filming their training session. I was looking through the lens and thinking, ‘I want to be where they are.’
I was constantly trying to better myself, and goal-setting was a big part of my teen years. I was trying to drive myself on to new levels. Every kid in New Zealand who plays rugby does the same.
I captained New Zealand Schools, then I received a phone call from Wellington Hurricanes coach Graham Mourie. I was still in school at the time and the call was huge for me because Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga were three of the huge names playing at the Hurricanes at the time (1997).
I reached another level with my rugby thanks to my time in the Hurricanes Academy. I also spent time at the New Zealand Academy, for which they only picked around ten guys a year.
I was playing at scrum-half when New Zealand won the U19 world title, and it was only at the U21 World Cup that I moved to ten. To begin with it was me at scrum-half, Aaron Mauger at fly-half and Seilala Mapusua at 13. Aaron got injured just before the final and another mate of mine, David Gibson, was brought into the nine shirt and I moved to ten.
Significant is how I’d describe that move, because when I came back I got a lot more game time at ten. They knew I’d played quite a lot of first five-eighth.
Tana Umaga was a huge influence on me when I started playing for the Hurricanes. I was assigned an amateur club, Petone, which is an awesome club. Tana was also at that club and he had a big impact on me.
Development was huge for me in my first season at the Hurricanes. Obviously I didn’t get a lot of game time for them, so I went back to Petone to play and it was great for me to have a club to turn out for.
I’d train at Petone on Tuesdays and Thursday, otherwise I wouldn’t have got a game on the weekend. This was the level below NPC, playing in a very strong senior competition. From the amateur club you’d play NPC for Wellington Lions, then Super Rugby for the Hurricanes.
You need to play the game and test your skills under pressure if you’re going to progress, rather than just spending hours and hours in the gym.
I love to play rugby and this summer I put out a message on Twitter asking to join a touch rugby team, and I had some great nights in Richmond. I only like having a week off from the game in the summer. After that I want to get my hands on the ball and practise my skills.
I hope I’m approachable. If someone wants a signature or a photo I remember back to when I used to do that to an All Black and how approachable my idols, Joe Stanley and Sean Fitzpatrick, were when I was a kid. I had a smile on my face for weeks after I met guys like that.
My family are proud of my achievements and proud of me playing for England. They back me 100%, no matter what.
DID YOU KNOW?
Twenty-nine per cent of England’s 45-man preliminary World Cup squad were born overseas, Flutey being one. He qualified for England on residency in 2007, making his debut in the autumn of 2008 and becoming a Lion the following summer.
This article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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