The 37-year-old speaks to Newstalk.com about playing for and against the Lions
Riki Flutey holds a unique place in the history of World rugby. The 37-year-old is the only player to play for both the New Zealand Maori and the Lions.
In 2009, Flutey became only the second player in the history of the Lions to play for and against the team. Limerick’s Tom Reid played against the Lions in 1959, four years after playing for the team in South Africa.
Four years ago, Flutey’s 2009 teammate James Hook played against the Lions for the Barbarians. Also in that Barbarians team was 2017 tourists Elliot Daly and Jared Payne. Daly make his debut on Saturday off the bench against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, while Payne will make his Lions debut in the coming weeks.
Flutey came off the bench in Wellington’s 23-6 defeat to the Lions, but speaking to Newstalk.com from his home on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, the future Lion #759 revealed he could have played against Clive Woodward’s team earlier that week.
"I was with the Maori in Fiji and the following week was the Lions game. We got wind that the big guns were being brought into play the Lions. It was a bummer."
Flutey’s place in the Maori team was taken by All Blacks legend Carlos Spencer, who missed out on selection for the main squad.
Flutey played against his native New Zealand in 2008. Picture by: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport
"After that, I went back to Wellington and was in that squad," Flutey continued. "I came on at half-back in the second-half. It was very special."
That game was to be Flutey’s swansong at home. The World Cup winner with New Zealand’s Under-19s moved to England months later to join London Irish.
Despite what would come with international recognition at England and the Lions, Flutey revealed that he never expected to play at international level.
"I got to around 25 and wanted something different. I got the chance to go to London Irish and I went over with a clean slate. Nobody knew me over there.
"The Lions and England was not in the forefront of my mind when I went over. They weren’t."
Flutey made his England debut in November 2008, less than a year before the Lions tour, but he revealed that playing in the red jersey in South Africa never entered his mind until the weeks before his England bow against the Pacific Islands.
"It wasn’t until a month before my first Test was when I wrote down my goals, and one of them was the play for the Lions. It’s the pinnacle for any player in Britain and Ireland to play in that jersey."
Flutey’s selection for the Lions was not a popular one. The centre had only played four years previously against the side, and many felt his selection was not merited, due to his background in New Zealand.
Lion #759 Riki Flutey. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland/BLL
"Lots of people out there weren’t happy," he admitted. "All the external things didn’t bother me. I don’t make the rules."
Despite his upbringing on the opposite side of the World, Flutey was fluent in all things Lions, due to his father.
"As a kid, my dad had Lions books and All Blacks books on the shelves at home. I’ve always known the history of the team."
Since retirement, Flutey is based and works in the Wellington area. Ahead of the Lions’ arrival, he has been regularly asked who he will support when the Test series begins. For the Wairarapa-born native, it’s not something he even needs to think about.
"I got the opportunity to wear a special jersey. It was an honour to wear the Lions jersey. It’s a no-brainer for me. I’ll be supporting the Lions."
One of the most used players on the 2009 Tour, Flutey played in six of the ten matches, including the Third Test. Despite his ample amount of game time, the Lions experience almost ended after his debut.
"I injured my knee after the Royal XV game. It wasn't too bad. I got back to the hotel and iced it up. I had planned to go out with a few drinks with the guys that night and my knee swelled up. I had to ice my knee for 20 minutes, every two hours for 24 hours."
Almost sent home, Flutey revealed he had to convince the Lions medical team to remove the extra fluid from his knee. Once that was done, and a second opinion was got from a London doctor, he was allowed stay in South Africa.
The Tour almost ended after a knee injury in the opening game. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Starting four games on Tour, Flutey partnered Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy (twice) and Tommy Bowe in the centre. Despite the lack of preparation time with the trio, he enjoyed playing with each player.
"When you are playing with players that are the top of their game, it can be quite easy. You can gel together far easier."
Injuries to Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll meant the England international stepped in for the Third Test eight years ago where he partnered Bowe in the centre.
Having not made the matchday squad for the previous Tests, Flutey revealed his place in the midweek teams against Southern Kings and the Emerging Springboks inspired performances that earned him the #12 jersey for the Johannesburg Test.
"I had to do everything in power to play well and grab the attention of the coaches. I had to say to them 'don’t leave me out.'"
The Lions begin their ten-match tour on Saturday morning, having arrived earlier this week. Flutey revealed that New Zealanders have had Lions fever in recent weeks.
"Everyone has been talking about it for months, especially since the Lions squad was named. It’s all over the TV. People are talking about it all around Wellington. We want to put on a good show, and provide great hospitality.
Lions fans in New Zealand in 2005. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
"There was about 30,000 [fans] that came to South Africa. When the fans come to Wellington, the place will be humming."
Flutey will be in attendance for the final three games of the tour, including the two matches in Wellington. Only Alun Wyn Jones and Leigh Halfpenny are part of the 2017 squad that were with Flutey in 2009. His sees the tour as an opportunity to meet some friends from his time in England.
"I’m really looking forward to catching up with some old mates, and catching up with some old teammates. Elliot Daly was a young kid coming through in my last years at Wasps. It’s awesome to see him making the team."
Flutey’s time in Lions colours may have only lasted for a handful of weeks in 2009, but it has left memories to last a lifetime.
"I’ve got some big memorabilia. I’m sitting under a picture of the team linking arms before the Third Test. It was an honour. I’m so grateful to have gotten the chance to be part of such an amazing club.
"It was the pinnacle of my career."