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Player of the Year: Johan van Vliet

Johan van Vliet on his Ballance farm. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

Johan van Vliet had never seen a rugby ball before he moved to New Zealand with his farming family. CHRIS COGDALE talked to the passionate dairy farmer and rugby player.

Having moved with his family from the Netherlands to a dairy farm near Eketahuna as a seven-year-old led to Johan van Vliet picking up a rugby ball for the first time.

“We had played football over there, but in Eke when we went to soccer training there was bugger all there,” van Vliet said.

“We wondered where all the boys out of the classroom were, and they were down the rugby ground, so we went down there and never looked back.”

Rugby soon became ingrained in the van Vliet family blood, with Johan and his older brother Huey, and sisters Ditte and Annemieke falling in love with the game.

The four siblings went on to play first-class rugby, with Huey and Annemieke also representing the Netherlands.

“My old man used to say we’re allowed to do everything that we weren’t allowed to do in soccer, like pick the ball up and tackle people. It was just something we really enjoyed.”

On leaving Wairarapa College, van Vliet hooked up with Eketahuna and made an immediate impression.

In 2011, he debuted for Wairarapa-Bush and made the openside flanker’s role his own for the next three seasons.

However, the call of international rugby was strong, and van Vliet headed to the Netherlands to try and play for his homeland. He played eight tests along with Huey, but living in a city didn’t suit, and the call of the farm brought him home.

“Farming was always in my blood, in my DNA. I was living in the middle of The Hague, and Mum and Dad were on the family farm in Eke and were winding up, so I came home to give it a crack.”

The 30-year-old and partner Morgan Melody, a supermarket manager in Palmerston North, now operate a dairy farm in Ballance.

Van Vliet returned to the Wai-Bush squad in 2019. He continued his good club form in 2020 and was instrumental in Eke making the semifinals.

“We definitely thought we could go all the way with the team we had on paper, but a few poor lapses in concentration in certain games and not getting a home semi made it tough.”

On the five-game representative season ahead, Van Vliet said: “It’s nice to see some exciting young players and it’s a short sharp season, so it’s not a massive commitment after the long, drawn out covid season. We should do pretty well.”

Top Player Standings

1 Johan van Vliet, 9pts [Eketahuna]

2 Tavita Isaac, 8pts [Greytown] and Tipene Haira, 8pts [Martinborough]

3 Kirk Tufuga, 7pts [Eketahuna] and Tom McKay, 7pts [Eketahuna]

4 Joe Beech, 6pts [Marist], Bryan Arnold, 6pts [East Coast], Logan Flutey, 6pts [Martinborough] and Peter Beech, 6pts [Marist]

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