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Kepu set to prop up Super Rugby newcomers Moana Pasifika

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FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2015, file photo, Australia's Sekope Kepu smiles as he crosses the try line to score against New Zealand during their Rugby Championship match in Sydney. Moana Pacifika have signed on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 veteran international prop Kepu in a move which adds considerable experience to their squad for their inaugural season in the Super Rugby Pacific tournament. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Moana Pasifika has signed veteran international prop Sekope Kepu in a move which adds considerable experience to its squad for their inaugural season in Super Rugby Pacific.

The 35-year-old Kepu played 110 tests for Australia before his international retirement in 2019. He joined London Irish for two seasons in Britain before moving to New Zealand and playing for Counties Manukau in the National Provincial Championship.

Kepu on Tuesday joined his former Wallabies teammate Christian Leali’ifano as the second of eight players the expansion club can field who are not eligible to play for Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands or Fiji.

Moana Pasifika said it has signed around 30 of the 38 players who will make up its squad for the 2022 tournament. Kepu and Leali’ifano are among the announced signings along with New Zealand-based Ereatara Enari, Neria Foma’i, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Tomasi Alosio and Henry Taefu.

Coach Aaron Mauger told sports radio network SENZ on Monday that New Zealand captain Ardie Savea will not be part of the inaugural squad. Savea has expressed interest in playing for the Pacific franchise, which will be based in Auckland, New Zealand. But while he is off contract this year, he is expected to re-sign with the Wellington-based Hurricanes.

“Ardie is a great example of a guy who understands his ability to influence and really serve the Pasifika community,” Mauger told SENZ. “Rugby is a great vehicle for us, it’s really important. But it’s not actually the main thing for Moana Pasifika. This is really about a community journey and we want to take all of our people with us.

“Unfortunately Ardie won’t be part of that, not in this initial stage anyway. But who knows down the track.”

New Zealand’s NPC has been a rich resource of Pacific talent for Moana Pasifika.

“We’re really excited by the squad ... that’s the beauty of the NPC,” Mauger said. “A lot of our Pasifika players are based in New Zealand and are plying their trade in good provinces, with good support structures around them.

“A lot of them just need an opportunity. The beauty is that we can provide that opportunity through Moana Pasifika.”

Super Rugby Pacific will comprise five teams from each of Australia and New Zealand, plus Moana Pasifika and the Fiji Drua, which will be based in Australia's Queensland state for at least one season.

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