SAIMONE TAUMOEPEAU

NZ Rugby World - - Rugby Championship -

The se­lec­tion of Saimone Taumoepeau for the All Blacks end of year tour in 2004 was, by mod­ern stan­dards, al­most en­tirely ran­dom. Schooled in Tonga, Taumoepeau didn't even take up rugby un­til he reached his late teens and moved to New Zealand. He was 20 when he came and his mo­ti­va­tion was not to win higher rugby hon­ours, but to hold down reg­u­lar work and play a bit of rugby while he did so.

At 103kg, he didn’t feel he was big enough to be taken se­ri­ously as an elite prop.

He was in his third sea­son with Auck­land's Marist club in 2004 and he be­gan that sea­son as barely a re­al­is­tic prospect for Auck­land in the NPC. But his ex­plo­sive scrum­mag­ing caught the eye of Auck­land coach Pat Lam, and when in­juries struck, Taumoepeau sud­denly found him­self play­ing in the NPC.

He was hold­ing down a full-time job at a freez­ing works and was on a pay-per-play con­tract. He worked the morn­ing shift at Carter Holt Har­vey and then legged it to train­ing once he clocked off. It was a highly ir­reg­u­lar sce­nario and one that made it hard in the ex­treme for Taumoepeau to pre­pare well and com­pete. Nev­er­the­less he played su­perbly for Auck­land and by mid-Septem­ber was given a full-time pro­vin­cial deal that al­lowed him to give up his job.

The truly ridicu­lous part came just six weeks later, when he was named in the All Blacks. The na­tional se­lec­tors felt the Ton­gan-born prop had the skill set they were look­ing for. He was dy­namic at the set piece and highly mo­bile around the field given his rel­a­tive lack of bulk.

If there was an el­e­ment of be­muse­ment within the pub­lic, it was shared by Taumeo­peau when he was named to start against Italy. “I'm so happy to make the All Blacks be­cause I'm a Ton­gan,” he said. “I'm not a New Zealan­der so it's a bit hard for me. It will be my first time do­ing the haka so I'm work­ing hard to be ready for that.

“Train­ings are a lot harder with the All Blacks. The shoul­ders are a lit­tle ten­der after some of the hard train­ing.”

Taumeo­peau made his test de­but in Rome, scor­ing a try with his first touch. It truly was the most re­mark­able as­cen­sion to na­tional hon­ours.

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