The tiny Pacific Ocean republic of Kiribati is not renowned for producing rugby players but talented Exeter centre Barrie Karea is doing his best to prove the exception.
After spending his first ten years in one of the remotest places on the planet – Kiribati is a collection of 32 atolls and reef islands, with a population of just over 100,000, that straddle the equator and International Date Line – Karea’s family moved to England in 2010.
“Kiribati is literally in the middle of nowhere,” says Karea, 19, who has been making quite an impact in this season’s Premiership Cup. “Dad had a business out there and my mum is 100% Gilbertese (of Kiribati descent), but they wanted to give me a better opportunity so we came here and I went to Queen Elizabeth School in Crediton, then on to Blundell’s School.
“I started playing rugby at Crediton RFC and developed quite quickly. At first I was a prop because I was a bit chubbier, but then as I got taller I went into the second row and then played at No.8. Finally, they saw me as a No.12 and after being selected for Devon in 2015 and then moving into Exeter’s development pathway, Chiefs are now giving me a chance.”
An opportunity he has grabbed with both hands, having made a try-scoring debut against Bath a fortnight ago before making his first start last week at Leicester.
He said: “I spent the whole summer training with the first team which was pretty surreal in itself, but to then get the call-up against Bath was really special. Going into the day and then running out into a packed stadium was an incredible feeling, and to get a try was amazing. I didn’t have to do a lot, just track someone’s run, but I couldn’t have asked for better.
“Then to start at Leicester as well, experience-wise there’s no better place. The crowd at Welford Road is very loud and they get stuck into you a bit, but it was a very good place to start playing at a higher standard and even though we lost, I took a lot from it.”
Oddly, Karea is studying for a Sports Coaching degree at Cardiff Met University rather than at the local university in Exeter. “I’m not that academic and my A-level grades weren’t good enough for Exeter,” admits Karea. “But Cardiff Met are in the BUCS Super League as well so I’ll look to get some good games under my belt and keep pushing for games at Chiefs.”
Karea has superb role models at Sandy Park, adding: “I look up to Ollie Devoto, Henry Slade and Sam Hill and just watching them is surreal, but they’re all chatty and willing to help as well and they’ll tell you when things aren’t right and give you tips to get better.
“My main aim is to play more Premiership Cup and Shield games for Chiefs and another big target this season is to get involved with the England U20s set-up.”
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