To celebrate 100 Super Rugby games the Hurricanes gave Rodney So’oialo the party that the Crusaders didn’t give Richie McCaw. The Hurricanes beat the Reds 44 to 21, getting the 4 try bonus point and staying in semi final contention.
Rodney So’oialo joined former captain Tana Umaga as the Hurricanes’ only players to reach 100 caps. He first began his career for the Hurricanes in 2001 against the Reds, and took over the captaincy from Tana Umaga in 2006 and going on to lead them 49 times. He stepped down at the beginning of this year, handing the captaincy to Andrew Hore so So’oialo could focus on regaining his fitness, bulk, and his place in the All Blacks.
So’oialo debuted for Wellington in 2000 against Taranaki, winning the final in that year and has so far played 52 matches for his provincial team. He is still known for his sevens background, where he showcased his huge aerobic capacity in six international Sevens tournaments and winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games Manchester in 2002.
In tribute to Rodney So’oialo, his former captain Tana Umaga said “For me the memory that stands out was the 2000 season and the NPC final where I believe he and JC [Jerry Collins] really turned the game for us with their enthusiasm and willingness to take it to Canterbury. I just remember him being everywhere”. Early in the week So’oialo revealed he had already received congratulatory texts from both Umaga and former Hurricane star Christian Cullen.
His running game and tendency to kick the ball more than most forwards shows his background as a rugby union fullback; he didn’t convert to the forwards until after he finished high school. However, when he eliminated most of his kicking from his game was when he finally broke through and owned the No. 8 jersey for the All Blacks.
He first debuted for the All Blacks in 2002, taking part in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in John Mitchell’s team, and finally breaking into Graham Henry’s team on the End of Tour in 2004. In ‘that’ game against France in 2004 he came of age as an international 8, owing the jersey until 2009 and forming one of the best and most complementary All Black loose forward trios in history. The combination of Jerry Collins, Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo saw the All Blacks through till then end of the 2007 Rugby World Cup before Jerry Collins started to show signs of all the wear and tear. Collins wasn’t selected in 2008 and went to play overseas. Without his long-time provincial and international loose forward partner, and as a sign of his age, time in the game, and in no small part to the way he plays it, Rodney So’oialo is also showing signs of the same wear and tear. Last year for the first time in five years he didn’t finish the year as the best number 8 in New Zealand. His position in the All Blacks is currently held by Kieran Read.
Still bucking the trend by still putting his body on the line for New Zealand Rugby at 31, So’oialo will be hoping a big Super 14 will get him back in the All Blacks. His experience will be invaluable to the All Blacks challenge for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.