From shy boy to All Black, David Havili set to realise rugby dream
Struggling to break into the Nelson College first XV never deterred David Havili from realising his rugby dream.
From a young age the Motueka product wanted to become an All Black. However, just getting into the top side at his school, let alone his country, proved an early stumbling block for the aspiring fullback.
Havili, who was named on the bench to play Argentina in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning (NZT), spent the majority of his time at Nelson College playing for the school's second XV. Despite being a skillful touch player, going on to represent New Zealand at under-19 level, he only briefly featured in the UC Championship.
"I sat on the bench quite a lot. I guess I didn't get the opportunities back then but I was still keen to see how far rugby could take me and I persevered into club rugby," Havili told Stuff in 2015.
After leaving Nelson College, Havili took up a job working as a builder for a family member in Motueka. He played his club rugby for Nelson, the oldest club in the country, and it was through the grind of grassroots footy where he began making a name for himself.
"He's always had potential and he's always had the ability but I guess because of his size he didn't get the opportunities like other players did initially," Nelson coach Kade Heke said.
"He got looked over for bigger guys but you can see it in his play, and Willy [his young brother] is a lot like him. They are small in stature and big in heart. The cream always rises and it was just a matter of time with Dave because you always saw the ability in him."
Havili was called into the Baby Blacks squad as a late injury replacement for Simon Hickey at the Junior World Championship in 2014, the same year he earned his first Mitre 10 Cup contract with the Tasman Makos.
Heke said the the New Zealand under-20 selection was the turning point in Havili's career.
"When he got that recognition people started watching him. Up until that point he was a good football player but he wasn't big enough or didn't suit the mould, but once you get a NZ 20s call-up people start taking notice."
The Crusaders came calling next, offering Havili a spot in their wider training squad for the 2015 season, and it took just two years for him to make the No 15 jersey his own, playing his way into All Blacks contention during a breakout 2017 where he also became a Super Rugby champion.
If Havili gets on the field he will become the first homegrown Tasman Makos player to represent the All Blacks. Although there have been other Makos that have represented New Zealand before, including Liam Squire and Kane Hames in the current crop, none of them were actually born in Nelson.
Tasman coach Leon MacDonald, a former All Blacks fullback himself, said the team was thrilled for the 22-year-old.
"We're really proud of him and to get a first cap in an All Black jersey is amazing. From where he started as a really shy young boy three only years ago to the leader he is now, he's worked really hard and come a really long way and he thoroughly deserves it," MacDonald said.
"The Makos team and wider family are really proud and can't wait to watch him play."
MacDonald well remembers his own test debut and expected Havili to soak up the occasion at Estadio Jose Aalfitani.
"It was against Scotland at Carisbrook in Dunedin and the whole week's a big week and when your name's read out for the first time it's really special. He'll be pretty nervous I'd say, but knowing David, he plays with a lot of courage and he'll get out there and just do what he does well."