Ruben Love was a gun cricketer while at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, playing for the first XI.
Back in his school days, Ruben Love dreamed of playing cricket professionally, maybe one day even turning out for the Black Caps.
A wicketkeeper-batter who was good enough to represent the New Zealand under-19 team, Love had lost interest in rugby and wanted to pursue a career as a cricketer instead.
It took a forceful intervention from his father – former Māori All Black Matene Love – to steer him in the direction of the oval code.
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“We were meant to go to the cricket nets, and he just drove me to a rugby park and there was a game going on, with the Under-16 B team I think it was, and said, ‘you can get out and play , or you can walk home’,” the Hurricanes utility recalled of his time as a pupil at Palmerston North Boys’ High School.
That year, Love hadn’t even signed up to play the game (“I wasn’t really enjoying it”), yet once he got out on the field and forced his way into the school’s first XV, he never looked back.
Today, the 21-year-old is grateful for his father’s guidance having established himself as a key figure for the Hurricanes, where he was deployed at both fullback and first five-eighth last season.
“I feel like right now I’ve made the best decision for myself and for my family as well,” said Love, who is being put through his paces in pre-season ahead of the looming Super Rugby Pacific season, which kicks off next month.
Of course, Love still retains a passion for cricket and was due to show off his prowess in Friday’s T20 Black Clash before pulling out with an unspecified injury.
With that distraction out the way, Love can now give rugby his undivided attention. He enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, helping Wellington break their 22-year NPC drunk and earning call-ups to the Maori All Blacks and All Blacks XV squads.
And Love is bullish about the Hurricanes’ chances of bringing more silverware back to the capital, believing they are building “something special” at their new state-of-the-art training base in Upper Hutt, which they share with the Wellington Phoenix.
“I feel the affinity that we’ve cultivated in this group over the last two or three years has been substantial,” Love said.
“We’ve moved bases, we’re now out in Upper Hutt and there’s a lot more to do here. It’s a way bigger facility, the campus is huge.
“Those little coffee chats, the walks to training, all that stuff, it adds up over time. A lot of players have returned from last year and previous years and we are all on the same page, [with] the same goal and none of us are taking shortcuts.
“It’s really early doors in pre-season but we all have one goal in mind and that’s to win the competition.”
That might sound like fanciful talk, given that the Hurricanes finished fifth last term (behind the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs and ahead of the Highlanders) and haven’t won the title since 2016.
But Love believes a squad arguably boasting the world’s best player Ardie Savea along with seasoned All Blacks TJ Perenara and Jordie Barrett should be competing for the big prizes.
“With all the players we have here, I feel like we’re building something special,” Love said.
“I want to bring the championship to Wellington. We had a pretty good year with NPC last year, with the Wellington Lions, but I want to bring a Super Rugby championship here as well.”
Hurricanes coach Jason Holland is excited by the potential of his rookie No. 8 Peter Lakai this season.
Where Love will line up in Jason Holland’s starting XV remains a mystery. He wore the No 15 and No 10 jerseys with distinction last season and while willing to play “wherever is best for the team”, ideally he doesn’t want to “keep chopping and changing position” – particularly in a World Cup year.
“Anyone that’s playing Super Rugby has that goal to make the All Blacks squad. I’d be lying if I wasn’t saying the World Cup is a big aspiration or a big dream of mine, but right now I’m just focused on trying to win the Super Rugby comp this year,” Love said.
“My mind is focused on that at the minute.”
If he can help guide Super Rugby’s big underachievers to their first title for seven years, then Love’s case for inclusion might be too hard to ignore.