Dunedin and Auckland are about as far away from each other as our small country can allow. One is built on student housing, the other on skyscrapers. Yet Hoani Matenga, Christchurch Boys High old boy and Blues lock, has bridged the gap between the two cities by playing for the Highlanders and now the Blues.
“I loved it down there in Dunedin, there was a good bunch of boys and a good team,” said Hoani, speaking about his former Super Rugby team the Highlanders. Hoani played lock in the Wider Training Group for one year in 2010, emerging from Colts club rugby and Otago NPC.
“It’s a small town and the community gets involved – they back the Highlanders through and through,” he said.
But it wasn’t just rugby and study for this former Scarfie, he also dabbled in the musical arts. And by dabbled, we mean he joined Colts teammate Matiu Walters and fellow Unicol resident Ji Fraser in setting up a small band called Six60. You might have heard of them.
The crew flatted together on the infamous Castle Street, number 660, in a house that Hoani lovingly describes as a “big brick dungeon.” Hoani was on the bass and keys, Matiu was lead vocals, Ji was lead guitarist and another Colts player Eli Paewai was on the drums.
Hoani would have a few jams with the boys in between training, but had to take a step back when contracted with the Highlanders.
“I pursued rugby because I felt I owed it to myself and my father who passed away at the time, he pushed me all the way through my early days and loved rugby,” said Hoani.
At the time, Highlanders Head Coach was Glenn Moore, who the team knows as Growler – our current Blues defence coach. Hoani then took up overseas contracts in France and Japan – the first with Stade Montois Rugby in Mont-de-Marsan, the second with the Kubota Spears in Japan.
“Playing in Japan was completely different rugby, it was like trying to catch little mice,” he said. “The players are really fast and you’re only allowed two foreigners on the field at once. If you don’t win, the fans blame the foreigners that’s for sure.”
Nonetheless, Hoani knows what rugby has given him. He’s back in New Zealand, splitting his time between Wellington for NPC and Auckland for Super Rugby.
“It’s been pretty good to me and I’m really enjoying playing in New Zealand, even though it’s not for my home town. Once you travel, you realise how good you have it back home.”
Rugby keeps his days pretty busy, but keep your eyes peeled and you might just catch him making a cameo with the old band.