Northampton Saints: Pisi flourishing now he has found true home

Pictures by Linda Dawson
Pictures by Linda Dawson

GEORGE PISI turns up for his interview swinging his meat pack around.

Before anybody asks, he has won a bagful of chicken and steak joints after his team triumphed in the fitness competition in training.

The Samoan is looking pretty pleased with himself, but the beaming smile he has was nowhere to be seen the last time he came up against the Scarlets.

Making his first start for Saints following his move from Clermont Auvergne, Pisi endured a nightmare along with the rest of his team-mates.

With Ben Foden absent, Pisi made his first start at full-back and it was not an auspicious one, as he spilled a Rhys Priestland bomb and Matt Gilbert took advantage to score one of four tries all gifted to them by Saints.

Since then, though, Pisi has gone on to anchor a place in the side at outside centre, where he has been outstanding.

Pundits lined up to say Pisi was played out of position on that November night against the Scarlets, but the 25-year-old revealed he has spent most of his career in the 15 shirt.

“I played most of my rugby at full-back until three years ago when I changed to the midfield,” said Pisi. “But most of my younger days I played in midfield so I have changed back.”

Pisi was superb against Harlequins last week. Ever since that Scarlets defeat Pisi has been excellent at outside centre where his extra pace and dancing feet has challenged defences, adding an extra dimension to the Saints attack.

But last week emphasised just how good Pisi is in defence. Like any Samoan he likes a big tackle, but he is very quick to his feet to compete for the ball as well.

“It’s in our nature to smash people,” joked Pisi. “I prefer playing at centre because you get a lot more action and you get to tackle a lot more people, you don’t just stand out in the back.

“The commitment from all the boys just rubbed off on everyone and if you want somebody to get in there and smash somebody I will give it all for the boys.”

Born in Samoa, Pisi moved to Auckland in New Zealand with his family at the age of three “to seek a better life”.

Growing up in rugby-mad New Zealand, Pisi dreamed of playing for the All Blacks like every other child.

Pisi went to Massey High School, which has produced All Blacks Troy Flavell, Ron Cribb and Anthony Tuitavake plus England centre Shontayne Hape. It is renowned for its rugby and Pisi and his brothers Ken and Tusi thrived all going on to play for North Harbour.

Pisi played for New Zealand Schools and New Zealand Under-19s and under-21s.

“Back then going for that black jersey was my goal as I grew up in New Zealand,” said Pisi. “But things changed and playing for pride playing for my home country for Samoa was a big honour for me.”

Pisi won a Super Rugby contract with Auckland Blues in 2006 but a succession of injuries saw him make just 18 appearances and also stalled his dream of playing for New Zealand.

Two years ago as the World Cup approached Samoa came calling and Pisi jumped at the chance.

“It was an opportunity to play international rugby and I wanted to play international rugby so I took the chance,” said Pisi.

Not only did it see Pisi play at the World Cup where he was an ever present at outside centre for Samoa, but it opened doors in Europe.

With chances limited former Saint and now Blues boss Pat Lam allowed Pisi to joined Clermont Auvergne as a medical joker in place of fellow Samoan international Gavin Williams.

“I was only there for four months,” said Pisi. “The French are very different people, but the rugby was awesome. I was in a good team and a good set up with a lot of international players. Playing for Samoa has definitely helped. I played a couple of games at centre but they have Aurélien Rougerie, who is also their captain, so I was at full-back quite a lot.”

At Saints, though, Pisi has been able to play in his favourite position and he is certainly thriving.