Pepesana embraces change with Moana Pasifika
Preparing for his first season with Moana Pasifika in DHL Super Rugby Pacific, Pepesana Patafilo admits to being slightly overwhelmed with his shift to Auckland.
Wellington-born and a product of Wellington College and the Tawa club, he had 2021 and 2022 with the Hurricanes and 2023 with the championship-winning Crusaders. He made his Bunnings NPC debut with Waikato in 2018 before going on to play 42 games for Wellington since 2019.
But there was plenty to enjoy about his new connection with the Auckland-based Pacific Island team.
Patafilo said, "It means a lot. I feel at home here and I get to learn a bit about my culture as well. I feel like the best is yet to come [for Moana Pasifika] and I'm excited to hopefully be on the grass if that happens. I'm looking for more opportunities."
Being coached by former All Blacks captain, Hurricane, and Wellington stalwart Tana Umaga is also a benefit.
"He was a Wellington idol when I was growing up. It's pretty special to be coached by someone from Wellington."
Early indications have been that Patafilo will start the season in the midfield somewhere he hasn't played in recent seasons.
"I played centre growing up, but because of the quality midfielders in Wellington, I slowly progressed out to the wing, so now I am slowly making my way back.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge, but I back my skill sets to play there. It's going to be exciting."
Having been through the initial pre-season phase, he has enjoyed the quality of coaching and feels the side will surprise some people in 2024. And living in Auckland will ensure plenty of interest as he finds his way around.
"I'm on one side of Auckland but have still to explore the other side. And the humidity, that's also different too. I'm still adjusting, but we'll get there."
While at 27, he has been something of a late developer, the last few seasons have been incredibly productive.
Playing for Wellington when it lifted the Ranfurly Shield and then winning the Bunnings NPC had been highlights, while in Super Rugby Pacific, he shared in the 2023 Championship win in coach Scott Robertson's last season.
"I'm just glad to have been part of it because I know that people will talk about that Lions team in years to come.
"There were some special people in that team. When I came through pretty much everyone on my position had played Super Rugby and I was almost the only club guy. It's always been good competition for a place, but a healthy one."
For so long, Wellington teams had been inconsistent; it was almost a characteristic of Wellington teams through the generations.
"Being in those teams, we always knew we had it, but we always fell short. Being part of a winning team and having a good campaign was a good feeling."
And while he has moved north for Super Rugby Pacific, he is contracted for the 2024 season with the Lions.
Even with his experiences with Wellington, he said his stint with the Crusaders, which saw him play five games, three of them starting, set a standard for him in understanding what being professional looked like.
"It was even better that they are good people as well. I had a great time there."
He has often been asked why the Crusaders always win, and he said it was when he was immersed in the side that he could understand.
"It's different. Their preparation goes to another level, and that's prepping for all scenarios, whether it's mentally or physically. But that's even the non-23 boys. They're studying other teams to help the starters go well. They have a good culture down there."