Fortune favours the hard grafter Karauna

21:37, Jun 16 2014
Damian Karauna
GOT THE SKILLS: New Zealand Sevens skills coach and analyst Damian Karauna.

The meaning of the word "fortunate" is to be favoured or involved in good luck.

Basically, to be lucky.

Damian Karauna thinks he has had his fair share of fortune, making the rise from club rugby star in Mangakino to Super Rugby, the New Zealand Sevens, and now coaching.

It doesn't mention hard work. It doesn't mention commitment. Then again, neither does Karauna.

The truth is, Karauna is modest about his impressive career to date, and about the hard work he puts in on and off the field in his chosen profession.

He's laid back and takes things as they come. But when an opportunity does arise he's quick to snap it up and take the next step in his career.


Karauna is the skills coach and video analyst for the New Zealand Sevens team, working under Gordon Tietjens.

He got that job by being in the right place at the right time. It's why he thinks he has been fortunate.

"You're never going to just walk into a team, or into a job," he says. "It was a lot of hard work, but I've been very fortunate."

The beginning

Like every kid, Damian Karauna dreamed of being an All Black.

Born and raised in the tiny Waikato town of Mangakino, on the side of a hydro-electric dam, that dream probably seemed more distant to the kids in town.

In age-grade and schoolboy rugby, Karauna started making a name for himself, but it wasn't until he had finished school that the chance to head to the big city came up.

"I played club rugby for Mangakino from when I was still at high school, and you get a small taste when playing against the big teams in that division," Karauna says. "I had the opportunity with Hautapu to come up and play for them, so I made the move to Hautapu in 1996, and moved to Hamilton after living my whole life in Mangakino."

Initially, Karauna's goal wasn't to play for Waikato in the NPC. It was just to play a higher level of club rugby, and see where it took him.

"Making the Waikato squad was just a bonus," he says. "I didn't make Waikato until 1997 but, when I did I was thrilled. It was a dream to represent my region."

The rise

Gordon Tietjens liked what he saw from a young Karauna in 1996.

Then a fresh-faced 19-year-old, Karauna was named player of the tournament at the national Telecom Sevens in Palmerston North, leading Waikato to their first title.

Karauna had missed out on the Waikato side in 1995, when Counties Manukau took the national title, but made the most of his chance the following year.

Tietjens was instantly impressed by the teenager, and selected him in the New Zealand side for the Fiji Sevens.

"When you're playing in the final, Titch gets to look at you," he says. "I was fortunate enough to make the trial team, and then play for New Zealand."

His debut was stunning, scoring two tries against Uruguay in Fiji, before adding another brace in a 28-0 win over the Australian Fijians.

"I was fortunate to play for New Zealand for eight years," Karauna says.

"The big one was and always has been the Hong Kong Sevens, but it started with the Fiji Sevens, and there were tournaments in South America and Europe.

"Then the World Series started in 1999 and it all changed. We won the first four titles, so we got off to a good start.

"We had a lot of good players coming through, a lot of All Blacks involved back then, and I was fortunate enough to be involved with those teams and players."

The next level

Christian Cullen at fullback, Tana Umaga on the wing, Jason O'Halloran and Alama Ieremia at No 12 and 13, the Hurricanes backline in 1999 was stacked.

Coach Frank Oliver then brought in Karauna for his first taste of the Super 12, asking him to provide strong competition and backup to O'Halloran and Ieremia.

He started the first match of the season with Ieremia out injured, and went on to start three more matches near the end of the season, making seven appearances in total.

"For any player, you want to test yourself at the highest level and the next step for me was obviously Super Rugby," Karauna says.

"The physical difference in particular was a huge difference for me. Comparing me to those other guys, they were huge, so that first year was a real learning year for me."

In 2000, Karauna was picked up by the Chiefs, and says it was one of his proudest moments.

"The Hurricanes will always be there, and so will the Chiefs. The Chiefs are my home team, but I'll always support both teams," he says.

The overseas adventure

It was a simple question asked by a mate which led Karauna away from New Zealand.

At 27, Karauna was given an opportunity for a change of lifestyle and scenery, and took the chance.

"It just came about when one of the boys rung me and asked if I'd be keen to go to Japan," he says.

"At this point I was 27, and I just thought, I'm starting to get on a bit now.

"I talked to my wife, or partner at the time, Tania, and we hadn't been to Japan, so we decided to give it a crack."

Off to the Sanix Blues he went, staying for two years before making another international move, this time to rugby-mad Wales with Ospreys.

He played out his nine-month contract in Wales, then had an interesting offer from the club.

"They offered me the video-analysis role, and I had no idea of how to even open my hotmail.

"I wasn't computer savvy at all, but I learned as I went, and the good thing was I was still involved with rugby."

His playing days weren't quite over, as he still lined up for Ospreys feeder club Swansea for the next five years, until he was offered a coaching job at Swansea.

"I went from being one of the guys who hated the coach to being the coach, so that was quite hard. But it was great for my development, and I also took up the skills role with Ospreys which was great."

The homecoming

Karauna had to visit home every year, or face the wrath of his mum.

"She demanded to see the grandchildren," he explains.

It was on one such trip in 2012 when a job opportunity came his way during a chance meeting.

"I saw Karl Te Nana, a good mate of mine, and he was telling me that they had Gordon Tietjens coming on the show, on Code on Maori TV.

"He asks me if I'd like to come on and tell some funny stories about Titch, and I was pretty keen to do that.

"When I got there, we had a good time telling some tales, but then in a break Titch asks what I was doing, that sort of thing."

When he mentioned he was the skills coach for Ospreys, Tietjens offered Karauna a impending vacancy as the skills coach for the New Zealand Sevens team.

Mum was pleased about the move, bringing twin granddaughters Faya and Madison, 10, and 4-year-old Ellay closer to home.

The family have settled in Papamoa, a short drive to sevens trainings at Blake Park in Mt Maunganui, and Karauna couldn't be happier.

"I'd say it's a dream job."

Waikato Times