Manu Samoa’s Belgium Tuatagaloa on loss and perseverance
By Reina Va’ai
A proud descendant of the villages, Samatau Falelatai and Sapapali’i Savai’i, Belgium Tuatagaloa ‘feels blessed’ to be sitting in his Manu Samoa jersey here in Nagoya, Japan. It’s a day before Samoa’s much-anticipated match against Japan and although he knows his family and friends are cheering him on, there’s still one person missing. His father.
Tuatagaloa grew up watching his father coach the village rugby team in Samoa. ‘He loved rugby. Loved it. I just wish he was alive to see me now’. It’s his first Rugby World Cup and one of the proudest moments of his life, but it’s clear that the absence of his father still weighs heavily on him. Talking about the loss of a great leader in his family is difficult for him. ‘Shucks,’ he says. His fists are clenched on his knees and he pauses. ‘Shucks,’ he sighs again. ‘My family, they’re everything to me’.
Tuatagaloa surprisingly entered the rugby game much later than other professional players. The first sport he seriously pursued was boxing. He then moved on to volleyball throughout high school and at the age of 22, after further encouragement from his father, he decided to give rugby a go. Clearly a natural athlete, Tuatagaloa made the All Blacks 7s team a year later and has continued to succeed.
The success of his rugby career is not something that he takes for granted. He remembers, ‘Growing up as a kid in Samoa, you know, we all have similar stories. No money, no food on the table and now through rugby, I’ve been able to provide for my family and that for me is the greatest blessing.’ Tuatagaloa says that ‘just four years ago, while playing in France, I never thought I would get the opportunity to represent Samoa at the World Cup. I was so lucky to be selected by Coach Jackson’. He’s challenged on his use of the word ‘lucky’, and it’s suggested that he should perhaps try a more accurate reflection like ‘talented.’ He waves his hand and laughs. ‘No, I would say I’m lucky.’
Humble, talented and determined, Tuatagaloa doesn’t let the attention or perceived glamour of professional rugby rattle him. His purpose remains firm; he wants to honour his family. ‘Theres 11 of us kids. Five brothers and five sisters. Ever since my Dad passed away, I’ve taken on that role to provide for my family. No matter what I do, I always ask myself, ‘Is this going to help my family?’ I know that if my Dad was here, he would be very proud’. Prior to being selected for the Manu Samoa World Cup squad, Tuatagaloa was in the process of considering whether or not to continue his contract in France but he gave it all up to wear the blue jersey.
Forfeiting his contract may be considered a hefty price to pay. There are, however, absolutely no regrets on his end. ‘Carrying my Dad’s name on this jersey, that’s enough for me. He’s with me everywhere I go.’ That’s a cost worth fighting for.