The former Hurricanes No 10 appeared to be thrown on the scrap-heap after he resigned from the Western Force after he admitted stealing from his team mates to fund a gambling addiction.
He moved back to New Zealand where he started counselling in Rotorua, and got back on the paddock with the Bay of Plenty development team.
Yesterday he was named by Maori coach Jamie Joseph as the only specialist first-five for the three match tour of England.
“He’s been working pretty hard but he’d be the first to say that this is a real tough gig,” New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association boss Rob Nichol told Fairfax NZ.
“It’s very, very hard. Anybody who’s been exposed or dealt with people who have had gambling addictions, understand just how tough it is. It’s not a matter of you put a plaster on it and it goes away, he’s still got a big challenge ahead of him. But it’s one step at a time and good on Jamie Joseph.
The New Zealand Maori team leaves for England on November 6 and will play games against Leicester Tigers, a Championship selection and Canada.
Nichol said they were still working out how to manage Ripia’s issues on tour.
“You can’t see it, it’s not like alcohol or something like that, and it makes it very tough to deal with. They have to recognise they’ve got an issue and they have to really want to beat it. So as long as he can stick to those two philosophies, it’ll be him that drives what is required, so that he can manage it. And that’ll be done in a way that’s not a burden on the team or team management.”
Joseph said the Maori team provided a good environment for Ripia.
“Willie’s inclusion is one of the reasons we have the Maori All Blacks,” Joseph said.
“It’s to promote our players and our people. We do that with young guys like Aaron Smith, and in Willie’s case he’s an experienced football player who has the necessary skill set and, from what we’re hearing, he’s ready to go.”