Ripia finds the desire to revive career
The Maori All Blacks tour to England may have come to an end, but this is just the beginning for Willie Ripia.
The talented first-five has rebuilt his life after leaving the Western Force at the beginning of the year after being accused of stealing money from his team-mates to feed his out-of-control gambling addiction.
Having played a couple of club games in Rotorua and then a handful more for the Bay of Plenty development side, this Maori tour was Ripia's first taste of life back in the big time - and he came through it with flying colours.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the team," Ripia told Sunday News.
"I worked really hard for this camp, the hardest I've worked.
"To be in amongst a professional environment in this Maori team has been great, Christmas came early for me."
When Ripia gave his only full and frank interview about his gambling problem to Sunday News a few months ago, he said he'd try playing rugby again but was unsure whether he had the desire to make a career of it again. This tour has confirmed to him that he wants to give it another crack.
"I love rugby, it's something I've been doing for a while and I'm good at it," he said.
"A couple of months ago I could have given this up and I am now happy to stick it out for a couple more years.
"My focus is to get back on the field and make something of what I can do." Ripia hasn't decided what his next move will be. He wasn't picked up by any Super Rugby squads but could still get a wider training group contract. However, he revealed he could play again overseas.
"We'll see," he said.
"I have got a few things to think about, whether I want to come over to Europe or stay in New Zealand.
"I've got to make a decision and pick something that I'm happy with. I haven't spoken to my manager about it, I'll go back and have a meeting with him.
"I wanted to focus on this and not get mixed up with anything else, I wanted to give everything to this team but over the next couple of weeks it's time to make decisions."
Maori coach Jamie Joseph took a punt on selecting Ripia for this tour, but at the end of it he was full of praise about how the former Hurricane had been.
"I have to make a special mention to Willie," he said.
"He hadn't played any rugby whatsoever until we called him. But he has played a lot of games for this team and he has played Super Rugby.
"Whilst he has had some troubles in the past he's shown in the last three games that he's a quality player.
"Who knows what's ahead for him now, now that he's played those matches and the way he's played in them."