Joseph shows compassion for Willie Ripia
SAM WORTHINGTON AND MARC HINTON
Players boss Rob Nichol has applauded Willie Ripia's second-chance selection in the Maori All Blacks, although his struggle to overcome a gambling addiction remains a "real tough gig."
The former Hurricanes first-five's career appeared in tatters in January when he resigned from the Western Force after admitting stealing from team-mates' wallets and bags to feed his gambling habit.
Ripia has since been having counselling in Rotorua and has launched his comeback in low-key fashion with the Bay of Plenty development team.
He was the surprise selection yesterday as Maori coach Jamie Joseph named Ripia as his only specialist pivot for next month's three-match tour of England.
"He's been working pretty hard but he'd be the first to say that this is a real tough gig," said Nichol, the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association boss, who helped provide support for Ripia in conjunction with his manager Kent Hale.
"It's very, very hard. Anybody who's been exposed or dealt with people who have had gambling addictions, understand just how tough it is. It's not a matter of you put a plaster on it and it goes away, he's still got a big challenge ahead of him. But it's one step at a time and good on Jamie Joseph."
Hale said Ripia was unavailable for an interview as he focused on preparing for the squad assembling in Auckland on Saturday.
"The hardest thing is to admit you've got an addiction," Ripia said in an August interview. "It is a troubling illness and, at the same time, I am more than ashamed with what I've done. I don't think there is one word that can explain how embarrassed and sorry I am and also the shame I have brought on myself and more so my family."
A spokesperson for the Force said the club wished Ripia well but had no further comment to make.
The New Zealand Maori team leaves for England on November 6 and will play games against Leicester Tigers, a Championship selection and Canada.
Nichol said the specifics of how Ripia's issues would be managed on tour were yet to be determined.
"You can't see it, it's not like alcohol or something like that, and it makes it very tough to deal with. They have to recognise they've got an issue and they have to really want to beat it. So as long as he can stick to those two philosophies, it'll be him that drives what is required, so that he can manage it. And that'll be done in a way that's not a burden on the team or team management."
Joseph reckoned the Maori team provided the ideal environment for Ripia to prove himself.
"Willie's inclusion is one of the reasons we have the Maori All Blacks," Joseph said.
"It's to promote our players and our people. We do that with young guys like Aaron Smith, and in Willie's case he's an experienced football player who has the necessary skill set and, from what we're hearing, he's ready to go."
Joseph has utilities Tim Bateman and Trent Renata as cover, but says Ripia will tour as the specialist No 10.
He expects him to thrive on the responsibility and also to have the acceptance of his team-mates.
"That's why we selected him. He's a proven quantity in this team, and he's got some close friends in the squad. He's got a bit of work to do, no doubt but, from the conversations I've had, he's ready to go."
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