Former Wallabies centurion Sekope Kepu is considering a return to New Zealand rugby after returning to the country after leaving Premiership club London Irish.
Kepu signed with London Irish after the 2019 World Cup in Japan, but after more than a year of lockdown in England, the 110-test international interrupted his contract with the Brentford-based club to return to New Zealand for family health reasons.
The 35-year-old brought his wife and four children back to Auckland, where he spent 18 years of his life before moving to Australia to kick off his Super Rugby career with the Waratahs.
While in New Zealand, Kepu was part of many age teams before playing NPC for Manukau Counties between 2005 and 2007.
He was also a part of the Chiefs’ larger training squad, but a broken collarbone ruined his chances of making it into the 2007 Super 14 season.
However, as Kepu claims he ‘never planned to return to New Zealand’, COVID-19 uncertainty led to decision to return to Auckland to be closer to his parents and wife .
“We have set up a camp in Australia, which is our home. The children were born there and we have settled down well, ”Kepu told the New Zealand Herald.
“Unfortunately, with the Covid situation and the uncertainty of the trip, we made the decision to return to Auckland to be closer to both of our parents.
“It was horrible but that’s what it is with the laws right now. Day and night we stayed awake and tried to find availability with the MIQ facilities to try and give the club a little more time in March, April and May, but by then everything was full. June was not available. During this time, everyone wanted to come home.
“We have exhausted all the leads. It was impossible for me to come to New Zealand on my own. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.
Although still under contract with London Irish until the end of June, Kepu is expected to play for Manukau Counties for the first time since 2007 in this year’s NPC.
The provincial season kicks off on August 6, when the Steelers travel to Palmerston North to face Manawatu, at which time Kepu will be free from any contractual obligations with London Irish.
– RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 29, 2021
If the three-time World Cup veteran turned out for Manukau counties, he would be the last big name in the province, which had Kieran Read, Dalton Papalii and Nepo Laulala on their books last year and recruited Hoskins Sotutu this season.
“I’m happy to be back to where it all started,” Kepu said. “I feel like my body is in good shape after the end of the starting season last year.
“The level of the NPC is excellent. I’ve had a few sessions with the county guys and the pace is pretty fast. I really like to challenge myself.
NPC isn’t the only competition Kepu could play in again, as the New Zealand Herald reports that Moana Pasifika would be interested in acquiring her services for their first Super Rugby campaign next year.
Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen, but Kepu has said he “would love to be a part” of the new expansion franchise.
“I would love to be a part of it,” he told the Herald.
“Nothing is set in stone – they are always trying to find a coach and everything is sorted out, but it would be great to be a part of something special, the start of a new team. To be from the Pacific Islands and play Super Rugby again would be great.
“The plan was never to come back here, but slowly things are looking clearer. I enjoy being back and seeing my family and friends that I haven’t seen in years.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly roundup of the vast world of rugby.