Positive Pisi hoping history repeats itself for Saints

Ken Pisi endured a tough night against Leinster at the Gardens three years ago, but turned it around in Dublin a week later (picture: Linda Dawson)
Ken Pisi endured a tough night against Leinster at the Gardens three years ago, but turned it around in Dublin a week later (picture: Linda Dawson)

Much has been said about Saints’ team transformation from zeroes to heroes in Dublin three years ago, but perhaps the biggest individual success story in that Lazarus-like rise was Ken Pisi.

The Samoan had endured what he labels one of his ‘toughest times in rugby’ in the humiliation at Franklin’s Gardens on December 7, 2013.

Leinster ran riot at the Gardens in December 2013

Leinster ran riot at the Gardens in December 2013

Pisi had been switched to full-back at late notice after James Wilson was forced to withdraw, and the winger, like many of his team-mates, looked like a rabbit in the headlights as Leinster ran riot.

The Irish side scored six tries on their way to a crushing 40-7 success, leaving Saints slumped on the turf.

But, just seven days later, Saints marched to Dublin, where they completely turned the tables, earning an incredible 18-9 victory.

Pisi was again at full-back that night, as Jim Mallinder stuck to his guns and refused to be bowed by the player’s performance in the home defeat.

And the character the former North Harbour back showed was hugely commendable as he looked secure in a defensive display that will go down as one of Saints’ best of all time.

Now Pisi is using memories of that remarkable resurgence ahead of Saturday’s return to the Aviva Stadium, following Saints’ 37-10 defeat to Leinster at the Gardens last Friday night.

“I do look back on it,” said the 27-year-old. “That feeling afterwards knowing I’d played well and the team had beat Leinster on their home ground... we want to feel that again. It’s a big motivation for this week.

“The boys are really keen to go out there and redeem ourselves from last Friday’s performance and just to spark up something before we go back into the Premiership.

“I don’t know if we’ve got a chance of making the Champions Cup quarter-finals, but it would be good to show we can beat teams like Leinster away.”

Reflecting on the gut-wrenching defeat to Leinster at the Gardens three years ago, Pisi said: “After that, I found it tough. It was one of my toughest times in rugby.

“Confidence was low and my family, the boys in training and the coaches really helped me that week.

“I put a good performance in at the Aviva and although I felt nervous at first, I thought during the week that it was time to redeem myself and put in a good performance.

“I knew I could slot into that position if need be and I wanted to help the team.

“It was a big game and I had to pull out a big performance. The boys all did that.”

And how Saints would love a repeat this week.

Sitting ninth in the Aviva Premiership, 11 points off the top four, and bottom of their Champions Cup pool, seven points behind leaders Leinster, Mallinder’s men have received plenty of criticism this season.

And when asked whether that hurts the players, Pisi said: “It does, but I think we just have to stick at it.

“You’re not always going to have the perfect season, but it’s not as though we’re not doing anything off the field to improve it.

“There will be a time when we start to click and gel again, but at this time we just have to hang in there and keep doing what we’re doing to fix problems and get better.”

Ken and brother George are charged with keeping spirits high at Saints, as the siblings are two of the most positive people in the squad.

And the smiling Samoan said: “We tend to bounce back (from defeats) quite quickly.

“It is tough losing at home by that amount, but just bringing that positivity to training really helps the boys.

“It’s not the end of the world and there’s always this week to redeem ourselves.

“We can’t dwell on the past and we just need to focus on the weekend ahead.

“It will be good in Dublin.

“Hopefully we get some good support there like last time, and hopefully the result is the same.”

And on his own performances during the campaign, Pisi said: “It’s not been what I expected it to be, but I’ve been getting the opportunities and I’m just keen to take them now.”