Big Manu Vatuvei is key to Kiwis World Cup win
DAVID LONG IN MANCHESTER
Flying Kiwis winger Manu Vatuvei says winning the World Cup five years ago has given the New Zealanders confidence they can repeat history against arch-rivals Australia when they meet in this year's decider on Sunday morning in Manchester.
In Brisbane in 2008, massive underdogs New Zealand pulled off a stunning against-the-odds 34-20 victory.
From that World Cup-winning team, Simon Mannering, Vatuvei, Issac Luke and Greg Eastwood remain in the squad.
Vatuvei has been reflecting on that memorable night throughout this campaign, and is desperate for the Kiwis to show this weekend that the first time around wasn't a "fluke".
"When I'm at something like the World Cup, I think back to how I felt when we won it and there are a few guys that are still here from that year," Vatuvei said.
"Hopefully we can do it back-to-back and do it for the country, also to show that it wasn't a fluke last time.
"We're determined to win this and we showed that last week, that we were determined to play the whole 80 minutes to win the game."
When asked to compare the Kiwis teams of 2008 and 2013, Vatuvei said he felt this one was even more hungry for success.
"We are the same in lots of ways, but this team is more willing to win," he said.
"Every time the Kiwis team is different, with other players coming in. But everything else has been the same.
"Just looking around the squad now, I can see we can do it and the belief we have now is really strong.
"After the game last week (beating England 20-18), that gave us more confidence, so we'll just have to go out there and stick to the game plan that the coaching staff have given us."
Vatuvei has been battling injuries during this World Cup - after every game he's had to ice his knee, while he also missed last weekend's semifinal because of a groin strain.
However, he's hopeful of being right for the final and so, too, is Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney.
But the fact that Kearney is, demonstrates the 27-year-old's dramatic rise during the season.
He was troubled by injuries this year and his form wasn't good enough for April's Anzac test.
As the announcement date for the selection of the Kiwis' World Cup squad drew near, there were rumours Vatuvei was eyeing up a place in the Tongan team, given he didn't expect to be picked.
It must have been a tough call between him and Sam Perrett to join Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jason Nightingale as the squad's wingers.
However, while he probably came into the World Cup as the third-choice winger, he quickly established himself in the starting team, alongside Tuivasa-Sheck.
"I started well with the off-season and pre-season, losing a lot of weight and being able to maintain that," Vatuvei said of his year.
"There were niggles that came along here and there and I know that with my body I have to look after it even more.
"With where I am right now, I feel blessed and it's been the support of my family that's motivated me.
"Fighting for a spot in the team has been difficult every week and we're all here for the same reason.
"But I say to everyone, that no matter who puts on the jumper, we're all here to support them and do everything right for them."
The Kiwis will desperately need Vatuvei in the final. His ability to catch the high bombs was badly missed last week. So, too, was his talent at charging up the field from the kickoffs.
A good performance from Vatuvei on Sunday morning and the Kiwis will be on their way towards defending their title.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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