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Willis Halaholo: Why I changed my name for Wales matches and the gesture that meant so much to me

Willis Halaholo has revealed why his name changed on the Wales team-sheet for the Six Nations and how he felt seeing people adopt his picture for their social media profiles.

The Cardiff Blues centre says he is still coming to terms with the “surreal” experience of beginning his international career with a Six Nations title.

After making his debut as a replacement in the victory over Scotland at Murrayfield, he went on to make three more sub appearances during a memorable Championship campaign.

What immediately caught people’s attention was how his name appeared on the Wales team-list.

Rather than Willis, he was down as Uilisi Halaholo.

Some people thought it might be a misprint or that the “U” abbreviation, which appeared in some places, referred to uncapped.

It soon became apparent that it was, in fact, recognition of his birth name of Sean Alfred Uilisi Halaholo.

So why the change from the nickname which we had become used to?

He has been explaining all on the Cardiff Blues Podcast.

“I know the international games are seen worldwide, so I just wanted to pay respect to my family and my Tongan heritage, using my name properly,” he said.

“That was just the thinking behind it.

“Toby does the same with Taulupe Faletau.

“It was just paying respect to my uncles and everyone that came before me with that name.”

As for what we should all call him now, he replied: “Willis is fine.”

What also grabbed the attention was the number of people who changed their Twitter profiles to pictures of the 30-year-old to show their support for him following his selection to face Scotland.

“It meant a lot,” he said.

“Every time I was scrolling through, I saw my face on someone else’s profile picture.

“I kept thinking someone was making a fake page of me!

“But it was just people being supportive, so I am really thankful for them.

“I really wanted to thank each and every one.”

Halaholo admits he did fear he might not get to play for Wales, having had his hopes dashed following his first call-up.

After completing his three-year residency qualification, the Auckland-born former Hurricanes star was selected in Wayne Pivac’s opening squad for the game against the Barbarians in the autumn of 2019.

But, just days later, he suffered a serious knee ligament injury against Leicester, keeping him out for 11 months.

Then, following his return last October, he had to undergo a further operation, which meant another seven weeks on the sidelines.

But then, after just three games back, he was drafted into the Wales squad following an injury to Johnny Williams and thrown straight in to make his debut off the bench against Scotland.

“When I had the injury, you start to get doubts and I started to think whether I would reach that goal of mine, given my age,” he says.

“It was up and down mentally. It was draining because I had to do all that rehab on my own during lockdown.

“Hence why I took up a bit of boxing to try and shed weight a different way, instead of just focusing on rugby, rugby, rugby.

“I am just fortunate and grateful that I got there in the end.”



Willis Halaholo back in action for Cardiff Blues against London Irish

The side-stepping Halaholo made a good impression with his four cameos during Wales’ campaign, which culminated in them winning the Six Nations title.

“It still feels pretty surreal a week on. It’s still sinking in,” he said.

“I am actually still gutted about not getting a Grand Slam, but I will take winning a Championship.

“It feels really good. It came around fast. It feels like it wasn’t too long ago I was hit with an injury.

“It’s been a rollercoaster.”

Halaholo returned to action for Cardiff Blues on Friday night in their nine-try Challenge Cup thriller against London Irish at Brentford, setting up a score for wing Jason Harries during a last-gasp 41-35 defeat.

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