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Belgium wasn’t built in a day, Tuatagaloa poised for McBain

Belgium Tuatagaloa playing against Johnsonville in round 4 of the Swindale Shield. PHOTO: Tarn Styche.

  • By Adam Julian 

Belgium Tuatagaloa wasn’t supposed to be playing rugby this year. The former All Blacks Sevens and Samaon international had retired in France three years ago.

In November 2023 the 35-year-old winger returned to Wellington for a holiday and started training with Petone. After 10 rounds of the 2024 Swindale Shield, Tuatagaloa is the leading try scorer with 13 tries in seven appearances.

Petone is the only side to beat Swindale Shield leaders Old Boys University (40-29). Tuatagaloa changed the game with two tries after the Villagers were 24-0 down.

When Petone trailed Wainuiomata in the fifth round he scored two tries to inspire a furious finish and a 60-36 triumph on Old Timers’ Day at William Jones Park.

Tuatagaloa was ruthless against cellar dwellers Wellington and Avalon netting seven tires in two games.

“All my tries have to do with the team. This is not a one-man sport. My goal is to have fun with the boys and help them win. I can do that with hard work and leading by example,” Tuatagaloa said.

“Why am I still playing? I’ve got a bad knee. In 2020 I did an ACL and after nine months of recovery, I did the other one.

“I want to give back to the club that gave me everything.  I’m not looking too far into the future but at the moment my body is holding up and I’m contributing.”

Tuatagaloa is much more than a player for Petone. He’s been doing specific skills coaching and has built a strong connection with players half his age like New Zealand Under 20s representative Stanley Solomon.

“I’m quiet in the younger circle. What have I got to say they want to hear? But when I speak, I make sure it’s something useful. I’ve been young myself. Like lots of young fellas, I didn’t like being spoken at all the time. Young people prefer it when you show them things rather than tell them things.”

Two second half tries off the bench in Petone’s win over OBU in his comeback match in round three.

Tuatagaloa has shown an aptitude for actions rather than words his entire life. The fifth in a line of five sisters and six brothers, Tuatagaloa was born in Auckland and raised in Samoa.

When he was five, he relocated to Mangere to live with his aunty. A promising boxer, his dream was to follow one of his Samoa-based older sisters into the police force.

In 2010 Tuatagaloa earned a scholarship to study sport management at the New Zealand Institute of Sport in Wellington. A run past the Petone Rec later that year would halt his Police ambitions.

“I was a water boy for the rugby at Mangere College. I loved following rugby, but I never played.

“When Petone was seeking players, I thought here’s an opportunity, why not?

“Halfway through the season, my Dad passed away. I was going to go home to Auckland, but I got adopted by a Pakeha family in Churton Park. I call Paul and Susan Hendry my parents. They’ve been a massive help.”

By 2011 Tuatagaloa was in the Wellington Rugby Academy and a year later part of Sir Gordon Tietjens all-conquering All Blacks Sevens team. Between 2012 and 2013 Tuatagaloa played nine tournaments in the World Seven Series – in each of those years, New Zealand won overall honours.

“Sir Gordon Tietjens taught me how to be mentally disciplined. You can hit the wall, but the pain is only temporary, and after a while that pain becomes your friend. It builds character and you can draw on it to get you out of tough situations.

“After a while, it becomes fun trying to outdo yourself and others. I know that sounds a bit crazy but honestly Tich is unbelievable.”

Playing against Wainuiomata in round five. PHOTO: Andy McArthur.

Tuatagaloa won an NPC Premiership with Canterbury in 2013, played for Wellington in 2014, and then joined the Samoa Sevens in 17 tournaments from 2015 to 2018. The highlight was winning the Paris Cup final in 2016 against Fiji (29-26) after trailing 7-26.

He played in France for Valence Romans Rugby (French Fédérale 1) and was the leading try scorer in the competition with 18 tries in the 2018–19 season helping his side win promotion to a higher division.

It was in Valence, while injured, that he discovered his ability to coach. He guided the Valence Under 18 woman’s sevens team from total obscurity into the premier national finals where they lost narrowly to Top 14 powerhouse Stade Français in Paris. Three players from that team Alice Muller, Salomé Maran and Lou Noel (2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens bronze medallist) went on to play professionally.

To motivate the girls for the tourney, Tuatagaloa created an inspirational video with messages from some of his high-profile Sevens mates like Ardie Savea, Carlin Isles and Perry Baker.

Despite the rounded value Tuatagaloa provided, Valence got a whiff that Tuatagaloa was keen to represent Samoa in the 2019 Rugby World Cup which would have resulted in a brief period of absence.

Tuatagaloa scored a try on his Test debut for Samoa in a 25-17 win against Tonga on July 27. When coach Steve Jackson (now Black Ferns assistant) promised him a place in the World Cup team it was over with Valence. Tuatagaloa identified playing the Rugby World Cup as the highlight of his career.

“To pull on the blue jersey and test yourself against the best in the world is truly special;  the main reason you play the game. I don’t have a standout memory, being part of the whole thing was surreal.”

His internationals following his Tongan debut were against USA (10-13), Fiji (3-10), Australia (15-34), Scotland (0-34) and Russia (34-9).

Tuatagaloa wasn’t entirely lost to France. He had success coaching the Rouen women’s team who won promotion to the top professional league in France. He also worked closely with the Espoir (Hope) Academy players at Racing 92.

Ironically his closest mates in rugby are foreign-based Hutt Old Boys Marist professionals Ope Peleseuma, Tomasi Alosai and Parataiso Silafai-Leaana. All three played for Wellington, and Peleseuma and Alosai have been capped internationally by Samoa.

Their friendship will be briefly put aside on Saturday when Petone hosts Hutt Old Boys Marist in the 89th McBain Shield.

The McBain Shield.

Legendary All Black Billy Wallace described Alexander McBain as “the grandfather of school rugby.”

McBain was born in Scotland in 1868 and migrated to New Zealand in 1892. He was a schoolteacher for 45 years culminating in being headmaster of Eastern Hutt School from 1915-1931.

A leading referee, coach, and rugby advocate, he was a President of the Hutt Club and Vice-President of the Wellington Rugby Football Union. In 1933 he died. A year later Hector McBain (Alexander’s son) and Thomas Bevan presented a Shield to the Hutt and Petone clubs to “foster good fellowship.”

The McBain Shield has since become a highly anticipated ‘State of Origin’ type fixture since. Petone leads the head-to-head count by 63-20 with five draws. However, since 2000 Hutt have won the coveted prize 13 times, including the last time Tuatagaloa took part in 2012.

“I got so much grief from Ope, Tomasi and Parataiso when Hutt won it. It’s a big deal for both clubs. In the past we’ve had bets on it aboard. Outside internationals, it’s one of the games I’d like most to win.

“It’s always a tough game. It will come down to winning key moments, making fewer mistakes and enjoying ourselves.”

Tuatagaloa has played 61 games for Petone and scored 40 tries.

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One thought on “Belgium wasn’t built in a day, Tuatagaloa poised for McBain

  1. It would be great if the was a focus on the Premier 2 side and competition and players.
    The engine room of all clubs, I believe.
    Up and coming and past, some greats together with those who have in some case played 100-150 for their sides purely for the passion of the game.
    Profession and representative players come and go but the club man is there and i
    n some cases for decades.

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