Nemia Soqeta's return to Taranaki turned into a double celebration this week with the birth of his third child and confirmation that he had been selected in the Fiji squad to prepare for the Pacific Nations Cup.
The 29-year-old made it back from France, where he helped his club side Oyonnax avoid relegation from the Top 14 competition, with a few days to spare before his wife, Krystal, gave birth to Nemia junior on Monday.
The 1.97m, 114kg lock described his five-month stint on the fields of France as physical.
"It was a little bit slower than the ITM [Cup] but there were a lot of big boys and they love the forward play, so I blended in perfectly."
Well, not quite perfectly, as Soqeta found the language barrier the biggest obstacle in his way.
"That was hard, it was pretty rough. Things were made harder because the coach was astaunch French guy who expected everyone to speak French, even if you were a foreigner."
Nevertheless, Soqeta got by and endeared himself to the home fans who were kept on the edge of their seats to the very last game to see if their side would be back in the Top 14 next season.
Going into that match, Oyonnax were level on points with Perpignan and equal on points differential. While both sides lost, Oyonnax only went down 19-17 to Brive, while Perpignan fell 25-22 to Clermont.
"Considering how hard we worked and how hard we trained, we deserved to stay up," he said.
Soqeta only missed two games during his contract, sharing his time between No 8 and lock.
Because he had to return to New Zealand for Nemia junior's birth, he could not stay for the season review, leaving him unclear if another contract would be offered. He still has a year to run on his Taranaki contract and plans to meet head coach Colin Cooper within the week.
With a regular diet of hard rugby, Soqeta will head to the meeting happy with his form.
"It gave me the boost I needed, being at a new ground and a new club. I was telling Krystal that you do feel appreciated."
As for the call-up to his national side, that came as a real surprise.
"I didn't even know I had been selected. The coach, John McKee, he Skyped me and is looking forward to me going to Fiji but I told him I might have to juggle a few things, especially with a new baby."
- Taranaki Daily News
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