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PARIS – Mark Telea is back in the New Zealand fold after being forgiven by head coach Ian Foster for breaking curfew – but forgiveness is something the winger knows all about, following the killing of his brother.
The 26-year-old produced some magical running with twinkle-toed moves in the 44-6 destruction of Argentina in the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup semi-final having being forced to sit out the quarter-final win over Ireland due to breaking curfew.
He can now look forward to a likely start in Sunday’s (AEDT) final against defending champions South Africa, the country of his father Maleko’s birth.
Telea had been one of their stars of the campaign up to his indiscretion, scoring the fastest try in a World Cup opener against hosts France and then two against Italy.
Bouncing back from a ticking off is small change to Telea as he has had to surmount the traumatic death of his brother Jerico, one of his 23 siblings – some by blood and others adopted – in 2019.
Jerico died after being assaulted by Joseph Larson, who was drunk at the time, in Auckland.
However, even though Telea’s Samoan mother Tuala suffered a heart attack as a result of the tragedy, the family forgave Larson, who pleaded guilty, and he avoided prison as a result.
Larson – who is of Tongan heritage – obtained their forgiveness by undergoing the Samoan ritual of ifoga.
“You have experienced not just her family’s grief but also the graciousness of their forgiveness,” the judge told Larson, referring to the family’s victim impact statement written by Telea’s eldest sister Anita Fuimaono.
Telea himself would not be one for talking about the loss of Jerico. Despite his extrovert personality on the pitch, off it he jealously guards his privacy.
“I’m a real private person, I’d like to keep it that way,” Telea told 1News this year.
“I have no social media, I like it like that!”
He did concede, though, that it is good “growing up in a big family, you learn love early.”
Telea has also had to battle his way to the top and earn the right to don perhaps the most iconic shirt in rugby.
He initially had to mix the pleasure of playing rugby with earning a living from the unglamorous making of spa pool filters.
“Here you are waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning, getting in the car and driving to training,” he told 1News.
“Then you just go have a shower, straight back to work and you do that like repeat and it kind of just builds that mental resilience.”
Telea secured a coveted Super Rugby contract with The Blues in 2020 and despite his reluctance to speak to the media, within the squad he has emerged as a leader.
“He didn’t say a word the first few years but since then he’s become a leader,” said Blues assistant coach Dan Halangahu.
“He talks straight.”
His Test debut followed two years later, Telea making an instant impact as he ran in two tries against Scotland in November last year.
“He’s a hard worker, and has the gifts to take it all the way,” Blues captain Dalton Papali’i told Planet Rugby this year.
“I’ve seen him grow on and off the field.
“He’s already one of the best or if not the best winger in the game, and he’s still getting better.”
Telea – who looked up to iconic Springbok winger Bryan Habana when he was a young boy — will forever treasure the moment he told his family he was going to make his All Blacks debut.
“I told my mum, my dad and my sister and they were overjoyed – tears through their eyes,” he told Sportstak.
“The old man was happy, he’s been there from the beginning and seen all the hard work.”
The tears will be brimming come Saturday and become floods if he lifts the Webb Ellis trophy.