When, in May 2008, Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School appointed Zak Feaunati as their Head of Rugby, it looked like a good move.
After all, how many schools can call on an international back-row forward with more than a decade’s worth of experience of Premiership rugby and the knowledge of what it is like to represent their country in a World Cup?
And it certainly paid dividends, Feaunati’s arrival brought a considerable amount of publicity to the school and the fortunes of the Under-16s have never been so bright having reached the last 16 of the Daily Mail Knockout Cup for the first time last season.
However, 20 months on things have changed. The engagement of Feaunati’s services is no longer viewed as just a good move, it was a stroke of genius.
The entire world now knows about Bishop Vesey’s in Sutton Coldfield, thanks to Feaunati’s unlikely emergence as a star of the silver screen.
Indeed, the 36-year-old’s face is currently being beamed into the nation’s cinemas as the former Bath and Samoa international makes his acting debut in the rugby-cum-political film Invictus.
Feaunati plays the part of All Black legend Jonah Lomu in a story that tracks the creation of the post-Apartheid South Africa through their victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Matt Damon, most known for his role in the Bourne trilogy, stands on tiptoes as he tries to recreate winning captain Francois Pienaar, while Morgan Freeman, whose place in film history was secured in The Shawshank Redemption, does the opposite as he squeezes into the wiry frame of Nelson Mandela.
Just to top everything, the whole shooting match is directed by Clint Eastwood. No introduction required.
And of course there’s Feaunati for whom a glorious door appears to have opened and the mighty oak of global fame has sprouted from the small acorn of a suspected prank telephone call from former Bath team-mate David Barnes.
The journey started last March and will come to a natural break next week when he returns from promotional and charity work in Cape Town.
“Anyone who knows Barnesy would say he is the master of all tricksters,” Feaunati says. “He is the last person I would trust in a conversation about being Jonah Lomu in a film – I was sure it was a wind-up.
“But a woman from the RPA (Rugby Players Association) confirmed it was not a joke and before I knew it I was auditioning in London.”
But this was no normal audition, there was a distinct absence of alas and alack-ing, instead it was all Ka Mate, Ka Mate and slapping forearms.
“There I was standing in front of a panel of people in my jeans doing the haka. I just thought ‘I might as well go for it. I’m not going to see these people again’.”
A week later Feaunati, brother of former Worcester and Stourbridge centre Dominic, had got the part and he was due on set in South Africa to work with some of the biggest names of which Hollywood can think.
“When I got there, there were moments when I thought I was going to be out of my depth but from the first day they welcomed me with open arms.
“You quickly see they are just normal people. Doing a scene with Morgan or Matt was just like a day’s work, they were very friendly and took the time to get to know me and my family. I really appreciate that.”
What followed was seven weeks filming match action to recreate what was a titanic final between the All Blacks and Springboks, won in the last few minutes by Joel Stransky’s drop goal.
But it was not so much events on the pitch that made the tournament memorable as when Mandela handed the Webb Ellis Cup to Pienaar. The symbolism of the troubled country’s black and white leaders sharing a single, unique moment went some way to creating the Rainbow Nation.
Nevertheless as Lomu, Feaunati was the main threat to that destiny. The giant wing had steam-rollered his team into the final and to the brink of writing their own chapter of history.
And for the Wellington-born Kiwi the role had an extra resonance.
“I have played with and against Jonah for years at home, in Super 14 and most recently in the Help for Heroes match at Twickenham a couple of years ago.
“Like many people you meet in rugby you become good mates. We banter with each other the way everyone does. But we haven’t really spoken about it, Clint had done a lot of research and knew what he wanted from me.
“It was really weird pulling on the All Blacks jersey, sitting there in the changing room it was like going out for a game, then you would do the same two or three phases over again to get them right.”
That hard work has since paid dividends. Feaunati admits to feeling emotional when he saw the film at the premiere in Los Angeles, although he was more prepared when it was unveiled in London last Sunday.
“It was good to see the guys again, Matt and Morgan and Clint were there, we all got the red carpet treatment.”
While he is coy about the spin-offs, he confirmed there are ‘one or two possibilities’ but restated his commitment to the day job.
“I would have only accepted the role with the approval of Bishop Vesey’s and the club, they are my bread and butter.
“But they have been really supportive, there has been so much publicity for them it’s worked out for everyone. Hopefully life will get back to normal soon.”
If having an international as head of school rugby can be considered normal.