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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

All Blacks captain DJ Forbes trims tradition, but resolve intact

All Blacks captain keeps customary beard to minimum and hopes to build on legacy of his uncle Peter Fatialofa, a Samoan rugby great, who died. Paul Radley reports.
New Zealand’s DJ Forbes, left, is the most successful captain in rugby sevens history. Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP
New Zealand’s DJ Forbes, left, is the most successful captain in rugby sevens history. Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP

DUBAI // New Zealand’s bid to return to the Dubai winner’s circle this weekend will be fuelled by emotion after the recent death of a Samoan rugby great.

DJ Forbes, the All Blacks captain, will not be sporting his usual bushy beard when his side start their title bid on Friday.

He does have some stubble, as it is his superstition. The New Zealand prop traditionally arrives in Dubai with heavy growth, then shaves it clean ahead of the major business on Day 2 of the competition.

However, he cut his beard to attend the funeral earlier this month of his uncle Peter Fatialofa, who was arguably the greatest single influence on Samoan rugby.

Forbes grew up hoping to represent Samoa on account of his uncle, who captained the Pacific island side during their first World Cup appearance, in 1991.

The Auckland-born forward switched allegiances to New Zealand after having missed out on selection for the Samoan side early in his career.

He has become the most successful captain in the history of the abridged format representing the land of his birth, and he says he owes a debt of gratitude for that to his late uncle.

“In Samoan tradition I had to make sure I was clean-shaven for the funeral so I have less growth than normal,” Forbes said.

“Hopefully, I will be able to do a tribute to [Fatialofa] this weekend. He was huge in terms of me choosing rugby for a career.

“A lot of the Fatialofa nephews decided to play rugby because we used to grow up in his garage looking at all his photos, seeing him win the Ranfurly Shield and travel the world.

“For us, it was a huge blow. He left behind a massive legacy not just with what he did on the field but off the field, too.

“Hopefully, as individuals if we can achieve half of what he did, it would be great.”

The exact nature of Forbes’s tribute is not yet clear, but he does have form for personal homages in Dubai.

After he scored a try in the final victory of 2009, he made a rocking-the-back celebration, and he had “Titus” inscribed on his wristband to honour his new son.

Victory would be the most fitting gift, but Forbes knows it will not be easily earned.

“It is probably the hardest thing about wearing the fern, that you are expected to win regardless of what the guys are going through or how good the competition is getting,” Forbes said.

“As far as we’re concerned any of the teams could easily win.

“Obviously, our record shows we are consistent and hopefully we can do the job here because we haven’t won here in a while,” he added.

pradley@thenational.ae