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Veteran scrum half Piri Weepu brings World Cup class to Maori All Blacks

11/01/2013 06:20 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
TORONTO - When the Maori All Blacks face up to perform the haka Sunday, chances are Piri Weepu will be orchestrating the famed challenge in front of the Canadian rugby team.

The 30-year-old scrum half has already led the haka for the New Zealand All Blacks, delivering the words with a snarl as his teammates surround him.

"It's special leading it, no matter what team you're involved with," Weepu said after a chilly, windy practice with the Maori on Friday at the University of Toronto. "It's always a special time and moment."

With 71 national team test caps under his belt and having delivered a huge helping hand along the way to the 2011 World Cup, Weepu is an icon in New Zealand rugby.

When star fly half Dan Carter and then replacement Colin Slade went down at the tournament, Weepu took over goal-kicking duties and made seven kicks in a 33-10 quarter-final win over Argentina at the 2011 World Cup. He came off the field to be told by his father that his 78-year-old grandfather had died two days earlier.

He flew home to attend the funeral in Wainuiomata, a small town near Wellington, before returning to boot four penalties in the 20-6 semifinal victory over Australia.

He became an instant sensation, dubbed New Zealand's Mr. Fixit.

Weepu missed three early kicks in the final and when replacement fly half Aaron Cruden limped from the field, fourth-choice fly half Stephen Donald kicked the winning penalty in an 8-7 win over France.

Weepu won 25 caps for New Zealand in 2011 and '12, but has played just twice for the All Blacks this year.

And while Weepu prepares for 14th-ranked Canada and No. 18 U.S. on the Maori All Blacks' North American tour, the top-ranked New Zealand All Blacks are gearing up for test matches against No. 15 Japan, No. 5 France, No. 3 England and No. 8 Ireland.

Weepu will be watching from afar as 24-year-old Aaron Smith, 23-year-old Tawera Kerr-Barlow and 21-year-old T.J. Perenara look after scrum half duties.

While the Maori All Blacks are all business on the field, there is time for dialogue off it. The players discuss and learn about their heritage. There is even time for music — "enjoying a bit of fun before you get into the hard stuff," Weepu explains.

Listed at five foot 10 and 211 pounds, Weepu is chunky to put it charitably.

While fellow back Zac Guilford walks around as if a bodybuilder's torso has been attached to a dancer's legs, Weepu looks like a jumbo Hobbit who loves his groceries.

Conditioning, or lack thereof, have reportedly cost him more elite opportunities. Even the official All Blacks website notes Weepu is "almost as broad as he is tall."

He still has his eye on pulling on the New Zealand All Black jersey again, however.

"It's probably a bit too late to try and get back there this season," he said. "I'll probably wait and see how things pan out, just prepare for next year. Refocus and reset goals and try and create good stepping stones for myself to get myself an opportunity."

Weepu made his All Blacks debut in 2004 and currently stands second behind the retired Justin Marshall (80) in scrum half caps.

Carter has played with nine different halfbacks since making his test debut as fly half in 2004: Byron Kelleher, Marshall, Andy Ellis, Jimmy Cowan, Weepu, Alby Mathewson, Brendon Leonard, Smith and now Kerr-Barlow.

Of Weepu's 71 caps, 46 have been off the bench.

In 2007, he failed to make the All Blacks World Cup squad, passed over in favour of Kelleher, Leonard and Ellis.

Weepu, the 1,049th man to earn New Zealand All Black status, is no stranger to facing Canada.

He came on as a substitute in a 64-13 win over Canada in 2007 in Wellington and in the 79-15 victory in the 2011 World Cup.

"They're big boys and like a bit of physicality," he said of Canadian rugby.

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