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Young Gun: Terrence Hepetema – Leicester back

Terrence HepetemaBorn in England but raised in New Zealand, Leicester centre Terrence Hepetema admits his first season back in his ‘home’ country has been a real eye opener.

Hepetema arrived at Welford Road at the start of this season from New South Wales Waratahs as the Tigers’ injury woes in midfield began to mount.

Manu Tuilagi, the recently returned Anthony Allen and Matt Smith have all spent the majority of this season under treatment.

That means that Hepetema, 22, has been thrust into the centre of the action from the outset with two Premiership starts, two Heineken Cup appearances off the bench and a host of LV= Cup games to his name already.

And Hepetema, who qualifies for England, Australia and New Zealand due to his parentage, is loving every minute of it.

“A lot of boys have been injured and that’s given me the opportunity to prove myself,” he said.

“I’ve settled in pretty quickly, it’s a lot different to where I played back home. It’s been difficult to adjust to a slightly different style of play and different conditions but I feel I’m adapting well.

“All the guys have been great at making me feel at home, there are a few Kiwi boys around as well which has helped.

“I came over here thinking I didn’t have that many weaknesses but I’ve had to work hard on my understanding of the game.

“The structure, particularly on the defensive side has been a big thing for me to improve on and it has taken me a while.

“But there are so many good players here that just by watching and talking in training you learn so much. There is no better club to learn at.”

Born in Brent, Hepetema moved back to New Zealand with his family at the age of one and had never returned until the Tigers came calling. But, with an English mother and a Kiwi father, the 15st centre, equally happy at 12 or 13, has had plenty of reconnecting to do.

He has met his aunt for the first time in 20 years but while Leicester might be his new home, indeed Hepetema signed a two-year deal on arrival, do not doubt his allegiances to the All Blacks just yet.

“I signed to be here next year as well and I just want to keep getting better as a player. We will just see how that year goes and how I develop as a player,” he said.

“Before I came over I did not know much about the guys, all I really knew was that Manu was here and that they were the champions.

“But to get the chance to play in the Heineken Cup, that helps so much and I already feel so much a better player in myself.

“Being raised in New Zealand, there’s only one thing you want to be growing up and rugby is the only thing you know. My granddad Anthony Hepetema was an All Black and that has always been a massive influence.

“My dad came over and met my mother so they’re very proud of me to be coming back over here.”

The next step will be to nail down a position, although the man himself insists he is happy to line up wherever needed.

“I have not really spoken about my position but I feel I can adapt to any situation,” he added.

“I’ve filled in at 12 and 13 this season but obviously Manu is the No.1 13 at the club and I’d love to play alongside him. But I don’t set goals, I just want to play good footy. The rest will take care of itself.”

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