Jump to main content


Mum Mele ‘So Proud’ As Trailblazing Kiripati Sisters Aim High

Mum Mele ‘So Proud’ As Trailblazing Kiripati Sisters Aim High

Mele Kiripati, in Buccaneers colours, is pictured with her two young rugby-playing daughters, Merisa and Ivana ©Buccaneers RFC

When the Kiripati family relocated to Ireland from New Zealand 18 years ago, the Irish rugby community became central to their new life.

Kolo and Mele Kiripati moved to Dublin with their three young kids, Kolo Jr, Ivana, and Merisa. They only intended staying for one year but their love for the country has kept them here ever since.

After spending years on the sidelines watching her husband Kolo play, Mele decided to pick up the sport herself, playing for Buccaneers RFC at hooker.

The pair were later enlisted to help set up the girls’ minis, and later the youth section, at Buccaneers. She coached her daughter Ivana all the way up, whilst keeping a close eye on the progress of Merisa too. Up until last season she was involved in the Connacht Rugby committee, and also attended the IRFU’s ‘Women in Rugby’ Network launch.

Kolo first played with Wanderers FC in Dublin, before becoming a stalwart in the Buccaneers back row for many years. The former number 8 captained the Pirates in the 2012/13 campaign. He coached many underage sides in the Athlone club before stints with North Kildare and Longford.

He took over as head coach of the Buccs senior squad in 2020, helping them to secure the Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A title in 2022. He has since guided Creggs RFC to back-to-back Connacht Junior League crowns, with his daughters also playing their rugby there too.

The tight-knit family, who have Samoan heritage, now reside in Co. Roscommon. They put a huge commitment into rugby, with Kolo Jr, Ivana, and Merisa having all represented Connacht at age-grade level, and Ivana breaking through into the senior ranks last year.

“We’re so proud of our kids,” Mele told IrishRugby.ie. “We invested so much into rugby because we didn’t have any friends or family when we moved over here at first. It meant everything to us, we put all our energy into it.

“Kolo and I are both from big families back in Auckland. When we moved here, the Irish lifestyle was completely new to us, so rugby and that community became our family. We spent six days a week in Buccaneers at that time. It was everything to us.

“I always tell people I’m a taxi driver! But to see the dedication and the work that our two girls have put in to be where they are is amazing. We’re very proud of them.”

Eldest daughter Ivana impressed with the Clovers in the recent Celtic Challenge competition. Her dedication to the cause saw her travelling back and forth from Stateside where she is a student at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The talented back rower was one of the leading lights in the Clovers’ 20-5 opening win over Brython Thunder, before she got on the scoresheet in their 29-10 victory away to Glasgow Warriors.

Her performances convinced Ireland head coach Scott Bemand to select her as a training panellist on his squad for the upcoming Guinness Women’s Six Nations Championship.

The ambitious 20-year-old is leading by example, paving the way for sister Merisa who was recently part of the skilful Connacht side that won the PwC Under-18 Girls Interprovincial Championship, playing at blindside flanker in their 8-5 final triumph over Leinster.

Mele admitted that her two daughters got into rugby in different ways, saying:

Ivana would always watch rugby. She’d get up in the middle of the night to watch the southern hemisphere games. She watches all rugby, no matter what the competition is. She’s always had a clear idea of what she’s wanted to do.

“Merisa was slower to get into it but she has really come out of her shell in recent years. She is probably a little bit shy, not as confident as Ivana would be, I guess. Being involved with Connacht and Creggs has really brought her on as a player.”

She added: “They’re typical sisters, they would have been annoying one each other in the house growing up. Merisa is sometimes in awe of her sister but she’d never let Ivana know that!

“She’d often say to me how good she thinks Ivana is. It’s definitely given her that added motivation over the last couple of years.”

It is an exciting time to be involved in Irish Women’s rugby, with Bemand’s charges hoping for a top three finish in the Six Nations in order to secure their qualification for the 2025 Rugby World Cup in England.

The addition of a summer series for the Ireland Under-20 Women’s squad in July, with Niamh Briggs appointed as head coach, gives rising teenage stars like Merisa another rung to aim for on the pathway from underage to senior rugby.

Ivana was part of the inaugural Ireland U-20 squad last summer. She has been enjoying the Ireland training camps at the IRFU High Performance Centre, in preparation for the Six Nations. The atmosphere surrounding the squad is positive, with anticipation growing for the tournament.

According to her mum Mele, Ivana has soaked up the experience of training in the national set-up in Blanchardstown as she looks to take the jump to that next level.

“It has always been one of Ivana’s goals, so for her to be able to get that experience has been great. She has loved it.

“She’s had a two-week taster now of what it’s like to be involved. She wants more, it’s great motivation for her to keep working hard.

“I think those training panellist places for young girls are necessary because it gives them a chance to learn new things. I’m delighted that it’s there.”

There is a hopeful and quiet optimism around this youthful Ireland squad, which is bolstered by returning Sevens stars Béibhinn Parsons, Eve Higgins, and Aoibheann Reilly, who were part of Ireland’s historic first HSBC SVNS Series title success in Perth.

As they eye improved performances, particularly on home soil with Italy, Wales, and Scotland visiting the RDS, Virgin Media Park, and Kingspan Stadium respectively (tickets are available here), Kiripati is enthusiastic about what the future holds for the girls in green.

“I’m looking forward to see what happens. They’ve got a talented bunch of young players. They’ve got some great coaches in there.

“I really think things could be on the up. Everything I’ve heard from Ivana is that the set-up is shaping up well. Things are looking positive,” she added.