Indigenous | Māori Rugby

Māori waterpolo player helps his US university rugby team to first win

Kiahi Horan playing for Mount Saint Mary's University which triumphed in the USA Men's Premier 7's Championships. Photo: Screenshot / YouTube

By Ashleigh McCaull for RNZ

Two Kiwi collegiate rugby players are celebrating as their American university reached victory for the first time ever, in any national sporting event.

Kiahi Horan (Whakatōhea, Ngāti Maniapoto and Tūhoe) and Hayden McKay helped lead their team, Mount Saint Mary's University to triumph in the USA Men's Premier 7's Championships.

Over three days, 122 collegiate teams faced off in 300 matches.

A crucial moment for the team was in the quarter finals, when Horan managed to ruin what would have been the winning moment for the opposition.

Horan said he gave it all he could despite the odds not being in his favour.

"A few seconds afterwards Hayden came up to me and he said 'Bro, what are you doing, you're going to get carded'. From his angle he didn't think that I wrapped and he still doesn't think that I wrapped. I threw all my weight into that tackle, like threw my shoulder in. Lucky that it turned out all right and the ref was right there to see that I had made the attempt to wrap and so I didn't end up getting sent off," Horan said.

Plans to go professional

McKay has been playing rugby since he was four and received a scholarship to play for Mount St Mary's University in the US.

He’s also been selected to represent America in its under 20's rugby team, which he's thrilled about.

"My overall goal for rugby is to go play professionally and this is sort of a pathway to play at that level so I was over the moon and I couldn't believe it, it was always something that I've always wanted to do is play national level rugby and doing it at this age is going to be a great opportunity," McKay said.

McKay credits his upbringing in Aotearoa for helping him get to where he is.

"I was in the backyard with my two older brothers playing rugby from a young age and my mates playing with such a high level in New Zealand and being brought up with high quality coaches that I was being coached by in New Zealand - which I don't think US had around 14 years ago.”

Mount Saint Mary's were underdogs, but McKay said it was teamwork that won them the tournament.

"We just literally went out there and had fun and because we had such good team connections from our 15's season, our team bonding and chemistry was right there so that's literally what won us the game cause we weren't the best team out there at that comp, it's been our brotherhood and we played for our brothers and went out and had fun. That's what really made us win that tournament," McKay said.

model for the 'cuzzies'

Kiahi Horan is one of the top athletic scholars in the US, earning the President Award.

He's at Saint Mary's on a waterpolo scholarship and was competing with a New Zealand waterpolo men's team in California almost two weeks before the tournament.

After meeting a member of the rugby team he was invited to go to a practice where he showed off some skills when a ball went over the sideline, so he decided to kick off his jandals and kick a drop goal from the sidelines.

He hopes he can inspire other young Māori to believe that no goal is too high.

"For our whānau, I see myself as a role model for our little cuzzies out there that didn't know these kinds of things are possible so I really hope my experience can inspire some younger Māori tāne to follow and chase their dreams. Because you know with hard work and dedication and the support of your whānau anything is possible," Horan said.

Both have big goals for the future... Horan aims to represent New Zealand at the Olympics in water polo.

Meanwhile, McKay's gunning for the USA Eagles to play at the 2031 Rugby World Cup.