Hape shapes up to put Rec back in reckoning

Kiwi league centre has been eased in gradually but now's the time to stand out

When Stade Français run out at the Rec today wearing one of their shocking pink numbers to face Bath in their "camouflage" blue European jerseys, it could resemble not so much a do-or-die Heineken Cup tie as an audition for the Turner Prize. Don't forget your sunglasses.

But Shontayne Hape is unlikely to be dazzled. The New Zealand inside centre had an eminent career in rugby league and, after a tentative introduction to union, is becoming a stalwart of the Bath backline. "This is a great opportunity," he said. "To play one of the top teams in Europe in front of a packed-out crowd, everyone's excited about it. It could just get our season going."

After three knee reconstructions during his league days - as well as 85 tries in 136 matches for Bradford Bulls and 13 caps for the Kiwis - Hape is used to taking the long view. Right from the off, in his Bath debut against Leicester a year ago, he revealed himself as a wonderfully balanced runner and smooth distributor. But Hape was eased in gradually and admits that, like many code-crossers before him - Bath can recall Jason Robinson and Henry Paul in the mid-1990s and, more recently, the spectacularly unsuccessful Chev Walker - some things do not come naturally.

"I feel like I'm still learning, though now I'm often reacting without having to think about it. Every week I sit down with Brad Davis, our skills and defence coach, and think about areas of improvement. A normal rugby player down in his 22 probably thinks ‘clear your lines'. I much prefer to run than kick. My first reaction is to look to run. But I'm getting clued up. If I have to kick, I'll kick, though I wouldn't say I was the best. Just playing games is the answer."

Hape has also received a DVD summarising his strengths and weaknesses from Brian Smith, the England attack coach. "We've had a little chat," said Hape. "If I got the opportunity to play for England I'd be happy to take it. I qualify on residency at the end of the year and Brian understands that. All my focus at the moment is on winning for Bath." As a player, Smith swapped countries from Australia to Ireland, and did a stint in rugby league. "Sometimes it's better if someone can understand where you're coming from," said Hape.

Stade have their own former league star on the wing in Mark Gasnier, an old foe from epic Australia v New Zealand clashes. "He's an awesome player and a big threat to us," he said. "But they've got threats all over. We've got to get back to our running style last year that got us into the top four and the quarter-finals of the Heineken. Sometimes the boys have been trying too hard or maybe other teams are aware of how we want to play.

"There were guys who left in the summer, who had a lot of experience. With the new players coming in, they won't settle straight away. In January, hopefully we'll be hitting our straps."

Hape's wife Liana was a judge on New Zealand's version of the talent show So You Think You Can Dance and the couple have two young boys, Kyus and Kash. "I think Kyus is Hawaiian for sky," said Hape, "and we just made up Kash. With me having a name like Shontayne we had to come up with something. My mum thought I was going to be a girl and had chosen Shontelle. She also liked the boy's name Taine, so she put them together. Usually I just tell people it's French."

That won't work today. Just as it didn't work last October when Lesley Vainikolo, a former team-mate at Bradford Bulls, now with Gloucester, gave Hape's name to police inquiring into an alleged assault in Bath before owning up to his true identity. The case went to court before all the charges were dropped. Vainikolo, the Tongan picked by England in 2008 soon after switching to union, remains a firm friend. "I was a bit worried at first and I got asked by [Bath coach] Steve Meehan about it the next day," said Hape. "But I hadn't been out that night and Steve believed me straight away. It's all done with now and I'm encouraging Les to get back to the top."

Meehan was satisfied enough with Hape's form to start with the 28-year-old in the final seven matches of last season and the first six matches of this one. Hape thought he had clinched a win at Harlequins a fortnight ago with a try from a lovely, gliding run through a dog-legged defence, only for Quins to snatch a late try.

Bath have one win and a draw from five league matches and were soundly beaten away to Ulster in their Heineken Cup opener. Stade, with Sergio Parisse restored at No 8 after a long ban for gouging and Julien Dupuy (whose try for Leicester knocked Bath out of Europe last April) and Lionel Beauxis paired at half-back, scored four tries in the first half-hour in a 31-7 defeat of Edinburgh. "Last season we started well and faded towards the end," said Hape. "I'm hoping we'll do it the other way round this time."

Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn