Our friends at @RugbyLI are back with another interview and once again they’re speaking with one of this season’s key performers. Centre Terrence Hepetema has been a consistent presence in the 12 shirt despite the revolving cast of players around him and has more often than not been one of our best performers. Almost exactly a year since we last spoke, we called him up to see how things are going.
“We prepped all week knowing the weather was going to be bad. We knew it was gonna be a gritty performance, at times it wasn’t pretty… but at the end of the day we got the result and that’s the most important thing!” Hepetema tells me, looking back to a windy, wet afternoon at the Stoop last weekend. It was a second impressive win on the road in succession and I’m curious about what kickstarted the upturn in the teams form.
“Prior to the Northampton game we really went heavy with our performances, we’d lost a few on the bounce. We took a good hard look at them and some of he things that were happening… they weren’t skill errors, they weren’t things the coaches could fix. To put it bluntly, it was a lack of effort and energy.”
“we said in the Northampton game we’d go out there, make sure we were back in the game. Really enthusiastic, with a lot of energy and smiles on our faces no matter what happens. We did that and came away with the result, just like the Quins game. The conditions weren’t great and I think the fact we had more energy and enthusiasm is why we got the result.”
Energy is something the team, and especially the backs, haven’t lacked in recent performances. Whether it’s the youthful enthusiasm of our young players or the experience of seasoned campaigners like Terrence, there’s a real spring in the step of our squad right now. It shows especially in the centres where, as he did with Tom Stephenson last year, Hepetema has once again cemented himself as the skilful inside centre alongside the rangy, tough tackling Curtis Rona at 13.
“When we spoke last year I said you have to build a partnership and back to back games for me and Curtis have helped do that. Going back to your point on the young lads, when I first got to the club I saw massive amounts of talent but they hadn’t really been given an opportunity. They’re getting plenty of games now, particularly Ollie (Hassell-Collins) who is relly coming into his own now because he knows how good he is and I’m really pleased for them all, they work their asses off in training and they’re reaping the rewards now!”
For all that recent performances have been impressive the team still aren’t the finished article and it feels to me like there are still improvements to come. A point Terrence readily agrees with. “Mate, 100%! We were kidding ourselves that we would be the finished product at the end of pre-season, but with new people joining, people coming in late, injuries… we’re starting to build an identity around the way we play now. Energy, enthusiasm, they’re non-negotiable and if you bring that then whoever gets the jersey on the weekend you’ll see more of those performances.”
After those two away trips, it’s back to the Madejski this weekend, for the first time in over a month. “I can’t remember the last time we put out a good performance at home… I think maybe against Leicester. We owe the fans a lot, they turn up week-in, week-out. We’ve been good on the road but we’ve got to start stringing the wins together at home!”
“Finishing the game at Quins, seeing the fans around the pitch, that meant a lot. The more you guys are there with us, the more it helps. When we do something well, we look over and see you guys cheering, that’s a real confidence boost!”
Engaging with the fans is something we’ve seen Hepetema doing more and more this season. He’s always a genial guy at the side of the pitch post-game or in the club room but increasingly he’s reaching out on social media, sending messages to the fanbase that are very well received by the Exile Nation faithful. “I think we owe a lot to the fans. They stick with us, thick and thin. It’s easy to forget when we’re in our buble at training, but when I see them there by the sidelines or when I’m thinking to myself at home after a game… why not engage, why not give back! I remember growing up it meant a lot to me. I know you guys care a lot and we care a lot about you guys… without you there’s no team!”
It’s a punchy statement, spoken quietly but with authority. Another example of Hepetema showing leadership and setting out a way of behaving for our young players to emulate. It echoes the steadying presence he exudes on the pitch sitting in the centre of our play and making the guys around him that little bit better by his presence. “It’s not something I see myself as, but you saying it is a real compliment! I try to lead with my actions. Trying to be a good man, a good team man and hoping that shows on the field. By doing that, and engaging with you guys, giving back to the people who give so much for the team… I guess that is what a leader does!”
Our thanks to the club for arranging the interview, to Terrence for giving up his time and to Matt Merritt at @RugbyLI for putting it all together.