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Break on through . . . North Otago second five-eighth Taina Tamou tries to evade the Buller defence during the opening round of the Heartland Championship. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Taina Tamou is a new face in the North Otago rugby squad but he is no rookie. The widely travelled midfield back tells Hayden Meikle about life in his adopted province.

Q How old are you, Taina?
I’m 32. I’m the oldest in the North Otago team, and Ralphie Darling doesn’t let me forget it. He’s calling me “Koro”, granddad. I don’t mind it.

Q What’s your background? Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Gore, and I went to Gore High School and Northern Southland College. But I left school quite early. I was only really there for lunch and rugby, ha ha. Since then, I’ve been in Gore and Christchurch and Dunedin. Then I went back home a bit, but I decided I was ready for a bit of a change.

Q Oamaru’s obviously more exciting than Gore.
Ha, yeah, a wee bit. It’s been good.

Q Was rugby always a big part of your life?
I’ve played rugby most of my life, except from when I was 14 to 18, when I stopped. I picked it up again later on. I’ve played for a lot of teams. Woodlands, down in Southland, and a year with Star. My original home team is Excelsior, in Gore. And I actually played a bit of rugby league for a while. I played for the Cowboys in Invercargill, and I played a game for the Canterbury Bulls.

Q With rugby, did you get close to selection for Southland?
Yeah, I made the wider Stags squad three times. But I just couldn’t quite get in there. Different coaches came in and they each had their own style. So I got to the point where I thought I’d look at a change of scenery and have a crack at Heartland rugby. Graham Pitches, from Athletic Marist, approached me after the national sevens up in Rotorua.

Q You played sevens for Southland?
Yeah, I did probably four campaigns with Southland at the nationals. I played at the Queenstown tournament a couple of times. That was awesome. The atmosphere was way better there.

Q How did you find Citizens Shield club rugby this year?
It wasn’t too bad. Rugby back home would be a wee bit faster, but the physicality in North Otago is up there. There are some big boys around. All in all, it was pretty good.

Q Two games in, how are you finding the Heartland Championship?
Different. It’s a lot faster. The first 20 minutes against Mid Canterbury were incredibly fast. But it’s sort of what I expected, in a good way.

Q Is the North Otago squad coming together nicely?
At this stage, we’re gelling quite nicely. There’s a strong culture there, and it’s a great bunch of lads who get along and have a laugh.

Q We harp on about this, but it’s been five years since North Otago made the Meads Cup. Do you think that drought will be broken this year?
We’ve talked about it. All of us believe we can make the top four, and be really competitive. If we stick to our plan and structures, we can do anything.

Q How do you describe your style of rugby?
Just direct. Gainline metres. Holding on to the ball. I’m not that flair sort of player. I just like to hit it hard. I actually started as an openside flanker. My old man was a forwards coach and he wanted me to play there. I enjoyed it, but as time went on, I knew I was quite fast. So I skedaddled out to the wing and played there for years.

Q Any role model in rugby?
My brother, Corey. He was a big influence on me. He played halfback for Northland, and made New Zealand Maori in 2005.

Q Married? Children?
I’m not married. But I’ve got one kid. My daughter is 4, and she lives in Dunedin.

Q Any interests outside rugby?
I like a bit of skateboarding. Back in the day, I used to skateboard quite a lot. I like going to the gym but, yeah, my wee hobby is jumping on a skateboard and taking my daughter to the skate park.

Q You’ve got some decent tattoos. Do they have some meaning?
Yeah, I’ve got my tribe, Ngaruahine, on my arm. And the one on my calf is for my old man, who passed away. All us siblings have a similar tattoo for him.

Q What does the future hold?
I’ll keep my options open. There’s a chance to possibly go and play in Australia for a season. I actually played overseas a couple of years ago, in Germany. It was an eye-opener. First time leaving the country. My team, Pforzheim, actually won the German national championship.