I’ve been 17 years as
a professional rugby
player, when youre in the
job that long and then for
it to change all of a sudden
that can definitely be a
challenge.’ RICO GEAR
Umaga, Jerry Collins and Richie McCaw
following him. “Because I’ve been brought
up around the kapa haka scene, a lot of my
very good friends are, if you like, the elite
of the kapa haka circle. They’re the ones
who say to me, ‘Oh man, you’ve reached
the pinnacle of kapa haka. You get to lead
the All Blacks.
Gisborne Maori leader Derek Lardelli,
composer of Kapa o Pango, has been a
mentor and inspiration to Gear. Dereks
an amazing guy, with the amount of
knowledge he has.
Lardelli created the striking tattoos on
the Gear brothers’ arms. Hosea and I got
the tatts for each other in the early 2000s,
thats what it really represents – our
family, us as brothers and how close we
are as brothers. And, of course, tie us and
keep us grounded with where we come
from. I’m still really stoked that I have it.”
Kapa o Pango faced poorly informed
criticism, particularly the motion at the
end of the haka. Gear is philosophical.
“Thats the tough thing I guess, when
you’re on the world stage the
understanding isn’t going to be there in
terms of what we know and what we
represent. It was definitely a tricky
situation in terms of the drawing of breath
and how we show that.
At the end of the day, everybody came
together and made an agreement together
that we don’t go across the throat, we
draw from the lungs and go up from that
motion. That seemed to settle things down
a bit.” Like Hosea, Rico says leading the
haka is singularly intense. “You need to
know how to come back down. Sometimes,
because you’re so pumped up, you can be
on a different planet...as long as you’re
focused, you can show that ihi and wehi
through your eyes, and through your
actions, without going crazy. And again,
that controlled aggression which relates
to rugby where you need to be mentally
in control.”
In this vein, Gear has a last little pick me
up to get the Poverty Bay boys psyched up
before they hit the turf. “We’ve got a bit of
a Turanganui-a-Kiwa [Gisborne area] call
that we blast out before we run out of the
changing rooms. That’s been enough to get
everyone up, get everyone together and
away we go.”
He and Mutu created a mindset change
within Poverty Bay, Gear says. “We gave
the boys more knowledge in terms of what
we represent when we talk about the
players and the legends of this area who
have won the jersey before, to give it more
mana. We try and create more culture that
way. The challenge was to bring them
together as well because we have got a mix
of players in Gizzy here. We’ve got quite a
strong Maori population and we’ve also
got our Pakeha brothers, all our farmers,
and we’ve got a couple of Tongans as well.
Trying to bring them together and get
them all on the same waka.”
Just as the Chiefs have employed Tainui
culture to success, Poverty Bay learn from
the wisdom of local tribes such as Ngati
Porou, Mahaaki and Rongowhakaata. “We
also use other legends that are here, the
likes of Ian Kirkpatrick, hes a local
resident. We draw on those guys, get them
into the environment and try to have them
around as much as possible. It gives the
boys a lift, when they’re rubbing shoulders
with them and talking with them about
their experiences.
Kirky and Lawrie Knight played many
games for the Bay in the days when they
played against the top provincial teams in
New Zealand. “My brother [Hosea] played
for the Hurricanes for a long time and he
spoke of Kirky being in there, just how
good it was to have someone like that, of
that stature, in the environment. And its
been great for us as well.”
Gear and his players really enjoyed
hosting the Hurricanesfirst 2015 camp in
Gisborne. “We definitely maximised the
time we had with them. You could see
from how they were gelling as a unit that
they were going to potentially do really
well, leading into the tournament.”
He’s energised about the Heartland
Championship ahead. “This year’s the
125th anniversary year for the Poverty Bay
union, so its a celebration year.”
Another reason for him to come home
was for his young children to go to good
local schools, and have access to Maori
language and culture. “So thats the great
thing for them to be exposed to and the
tikanga on the marae.”
Players can find the transition out of
playing professionally full-time quite
daunting. “I’ve been 17 years as a
professional rugby player, when you’re in
the job that long and then for it to change
all of a sudden that can definitely be a
challenge. At the same time I am grateful
that I’ve now come into a role which is still
heavily involved in rugby. I think thats
made the transition easier. My partner and
I also run a nutritional cleanse business,
which is certainly keeping us busy.”
The coach/occasional player combo
invites comparison with former teammate
Tana Umaga. As much as Gear is
appreciating starting his coaching career
Growing up in Poverty
Bay, Gear has developed
a deep connection with
the haka and his Maori