Sione Asi is looking on the bright side of an enforced break from professional rugby.
The Sunwolves prop came back home to Oamaru in March, when the Super Rugby season was cut short because of Covid-19.
He has used the enforced break to reflect on his rapid rise through the professional ranks, and has been playing for his father Hotili Asi’s club team, Old Boys, in the Citizens Shield competition.
Lining up alongside and against people who played solely for the love of the game was a refreshing change, Asi said.
“The good thing here is playing without any expectation and pressure, just playing my own natural game.
“At a different level you have to play in a certain way.
“It’s fun and I feel like I’ve got the love of the game back.
“It has been a while since I felt like that.”
Asi had a tough start with the Sunwolves, pulling a calf muscle on the first day of training with the Tokyo-based team.
By the time he had recovered, the Sunwolves’ international players had been advised to return home to avoid getting stuck in Japan because of Covid-19.
The Sunwolves involvement in Super Rugby is now over after their bid to play in a domestic tournament in Australia fell through.
“I think we got away at the right time, before we got stuck,” Asi said.
“It was being in limbo for a good month or two.
“We did online training, which I found tough because I’m not used to training when I’m home.”
His time in Japan was an eye-opening experience.
Life in Japan was very different from life in Oamaru, but there were many cultural parallels with his Tongan heritage.
“One thing I loved the most [about Japanese culture] is the respect.
“I connected on that level, how the younger ones respect their elders – I could relate to that big time.”
The Japanese trainers were very focused on fitness and running.
“They have the sort of mentality to beat the New Zealand teams they have to be fitter.
“They make no excuses. That’s how Japanese people are; it was good for me.”
It had been a long off-season, in terms of professional rugby, for Asi, but at just 22, he has time on his side. Most props do not reach their peak until their late 20s.
“The best thing for me was connecting back to my roots,” he said.
“Just being able to be back home and being a brother to my siblings, spend time with my family.
“The biggest thing I’ve lacked is my faith in God. When my faith is strong, when I’m playing for him, that’s when everything goes well.”
Asi had been offered opportunities with Otago and Manawatu for the upcoming Mitre 10 Cup season, but with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the rugby season, was leaning towards taking a break and building for a big 2021 season.
“I’m going to sit back and reflect this year and get myself fully fit for next year.
“If I keep working hard, things will come.
“The dream is still there, the fire is in the belly, I want to commit myself 100% with it.”