If there has been a position in which New Zealand has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches more than any other it has probably been openside flanker. In recent years world class players like Michael Jones, Josh Kronfeld and now Richie McCaw have often meant limited chances for several others.
And some like Duane Monkley and Angus Gardiner have been denied the chances their abilities merited at international level. Another in this category has been Kupu Vanisi but he at least had the consolation, which Monkley and Gardiner never enjoyed, of winning his All Black jersey, if only for one game.
This was in 1999 when a chance was taken to rest the then incumbent No 7, Kronfeld, and play Vanisi in the warmup match against New Zealand A in Christchurch. For the rest of the year Vanisi was in the New Zealand A side himself, playing two matches. He had another four games for New Zealand A on the tour of Europe in 2000.
A mobile, energetic loose forward especially adept at retrieving the ball from turnovers at the tackle breakdown, Vanisi was the son of a member of the first Tongan team to tour New Zealand, Vainikolo Vanisi, a strongly built wing who on that tour in 1969 played seven of the 11 matches including the main fixtures against New Zealand Maori (twice) and the New Zealand Juniors.
The family moved to New Zealand in the 1970s and though born in the Islands Kupu grew up in Dunedin, where he learned his early rugby with the Southern club.
He made the Otago representative side in 1994 but unfortunately his career clashed with that of Kronfeld.
Despite having to compete against Kronfeld for a place, and with several other class loose forwards in Otago including Taine Randell, Vanisi played in 36 matches for Otago up until the end of the 1998 season. Between 1996 and 1998 he also made 23 Super 12 appearances for the Highlanders.
The realities of the professional era saw Vanisi finally move to Wellington, where he was able to get more regular opporunities both at NPC and Super 12 levels. When another injury brought an early end to his 2003 season Vanisi had played another 43 Super 12 matches with the Hurricanes even though for almost all the 2001 competition he was out with injury. He was also approaching a half century of games for Wellington, having helped the side to the 2000 NPC first division title.
With Wellington and the Hurricanes Vanisi has been part of some outstanding loose forward trios, with others also of Pacific island descent in Filo Tiatia, Jerry Collins and Rodney So’oialo.
Profile by Lindsay Knight
for the New Zealand Rugby Museum.
Osaiasi Kupu Vanisi
Thursday, 30 November 1972 in Nuku’alofa
(First made All Blacks from)
ALL BLACK DEBUT
Friday, 11 June 1999
v New Zealand ‘A’ at Christchurch
aged 26 years, 193 days
ALL BLACK TESTS
ALL BLACK GAMES
TOTAL ALL BLACK MATCHES
ALL BLACK GAME POINTS
TOTAL ALL BLACK POINTS
ALL BLACK NUMBER
ALL BLACK GAMES THAT VANISI PLAYED
(+) = substitute; (-) = replaced
Click on the date below to view the Match Card
11 Jun vs New Zealand ‘A’ at Christchurch 22-11
Vanisi did not score any points for the All Blacks.
Vanisi played in no test matches for the All Blacks.