The England front row that will face the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday can take comfort from the fact Fijian prop Haereiti Hetet has not inherited all of his father’s rugby attributes.
Hetet’s father is legendary Fijian tight head Joeli Veitayaki, who played 49 tests between 1994 and 2003 and had the “honour” of being named as the heaviest prop at the Rugby World Cup in Australia in 2003 tipping the scales a 137kgs (21st 5lbs). That was after he had enjoyed the previous Christmas with his family at 160 kilos (25st 3lb).
Fast forward 17 years and it is 23-year-old Hetet’s turn to enter the international stage as one of seven players from the Fiji squad preparing for the Autumn test series to be drafted into the Barbarians squad. Vern Cotter, the Fiji coach, has that role with the Barbarians and is a fan of the New Zealand Maori player – known as Big H -who has played loose head for Waikato and Bay of Plenty and weighs in at 18st 8lbs – nearly three stones lighter than when his father squeezed into the tight fitting Fiji jersey at the 2003 World Cup.
Veitayaki had a colourful career, taking a three year break from the international game to play social rugby and even turned out for Welsh club Dunvant who climbed up the leagues to qualify for the 1999 European Challenge Cup and were in the same group with Aurillac, Narbonne and Newcastle who featured Jonny Wilkinson, Va’aiga Tuigamala.
A season spent with Ulster was only memorable for the amount of business the Fijian prop gave local takeaway shops, but he returned to the national colours and was part of the Fiji team narrowly beaten 22-20 by Scotland in the final pool match of their 2003 World Cup pool.
Veitayaki, 53, wanted Hetet to play for the Fijian Under- 20’s but was told his son was too young and that is how he ended up playing against Fiji for the New Zealand Maori. “Growing up I always supported Fiji, just because it was a part of me, and watching them play every game they play – whether it’s rugby or other sports I would always back them,” Hetet told Radio NZ. “It’s just like being a Kiwi and backing every New Zealander. We played them in Fiji and it was pretty physical so it will be good to be on their side playing with them [this time around].”
His selection for the Autumn test series squad and the Barbarians came as a big surprise and he added: “It sort of came out of the blue. [Vern Cotter] gave me a call, I got a call saying if I was keen? [He’d] been watching me since last year and likes what he sees I guess, the progress between then and now.”
Cotter is expecting the prop to make a big impression and said:” Haereiti is an unknown player but his father isn’t, he’s the son of Joeli Veitayaki, somebody who is very well known. Haereiti has really impressed us with his performance as he can play both sides, left and right, and he is very excited about this opportunity.”