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Tafito Lafaele: From Injury Setback to Super Rugby Sensation

Tafito Lafaele: From Injury Setback to Super Rugby Sensation

All BlacksMarch 12, 2024

The Blues finished last in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki in 2023. They won’t be pushovers in 2024.

The Blues opened the competition in Invercargill with a 24-17 upset of defending champions Matatū. Last Saturday they stretched Chiefs Manawa to the limit and narrowly lost 10-17.

In the 78th minute of the Matatū triumph in round one, Tafito Lafaele scored what proved to be the winning try. She forced her way into the starting XV for the Manawa match and scored another try in a bustling performance.

Lafaele missed the Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) for premiership champions Auckland last year. She played in the WNRL for the Brisbane Broncos and for Pearls Rugby in Japan. The Pearls won their conference to make the national final where they were beaten. Lafaele left the field in the 50th minute with an ACL injury. She was determined to make a brighter start with the Blues. Her impact in the Matatū victory was palpable.

“The only thing I was thinking about was coming on and making the impact. Everyone on the field had been doing the work. I just wanted to add that spark, Lafaele said.

“We were down when I came on. Watching from the bench it looked like a fast-paced, physical game. I wanted to get amongst it. My game is heavy contact. 

“I didn’t expect to score a try but when things you least expect go your way it’s very rewarding. I kept telling myself to get up and go again.”

The Blues job wasn’t over after the Lafaele try. They spent the next handful of minutes tackling as Matatū surged. The game ended when Blues blindside Maia Roos held up Moomooga Palu over the try line.

“What a legend Maia. I was beside the post. I’d made a tackle in the previous ruck and hoped someone would get back,” Lafaele said.

“My lungs were burning, they were dying, we were dying, you’ve got to leave it all out there. My teammates were fighting for each other and if everyone is working hard, I want to work twice as hard coming off the bench fresher.”

On Saturday, Lafaele didn’t run out of puff in a strong display against Chiefs Manawa at Bell Park, Pakuranga. After slumping to a 12-0 deficit, Lafaele powered over the line for a try in the 44th minute as the Blues dominated the remainder of the contest but were left to rue some careless and impatient mistakes. Manawa has only lost one match in three seasons.

“To be honest they’re strong everywhere, especially in the pack,” Lafaele said.

“I feel like the level of skill and knowledge has lifted. The culture was healthy last year, this year it’s healthier.”

Manawa mauled the Blues 50-24 in pre-season and won their 2022 regular season fixture 50-33.

Lafaele started playing rugby in 2019 as a "115 kg fullback" at Papatoetoe Rugby Club. She was encouraged by her sister and law and brother to try after strangely taking two years off sport.

At Botany Downs College she represented the school in netball, Kī-o-rah, tag, and basketball, winning her division in 2018. Additionally, she was the MVP of the volleyball team from 2016 to 2018. It was in athletics, however, where she was most dominant.  She broke school records for discus and shotput, winning the North Island Regional Championship in the latter discipline.

College Rifles is where the rugby of Lafaele initially soared. She joined the powerhouse club for sevens in the summer and remained for fifteens in the winter, converting to flanker.  She helped Auckland make the 2022 Farah Palmer Cup final.

Her considerable potential was spotted by the Black Ferns in 2022. She played in two wins against Australia and Canada in the Pac4 series. The Black Ferns would go on to win the Rugby World Cup later that season.

 "I wasn’t named to play Australia but there was an injury, and I was told that I was going to make my debut off the bench. That changed the night before the game only to be revised in the morning.

“Ever since my goal became to be a Black Fern, I’d imagined a million different scenarios as to how I would be told I was making my debut and how I would react to the news. Out of the million scenarios I had pictured in my head none of them was the way it happened.

"I slept with my number 19 jersey on. It was an unreal feeling making your dream come true.

"Winning Pac4 was just the beginning of an awesome environment being created. It gave the girls their confidence back and showed what we were capable of." 

Tafito is the brother of former Samoan international Tim Lafaele. She was a lifeguard at Otara Pool and has a passion for music.

Some movement on the ladder after Round 2️⃣

How is your team going so far?#Aupiki24 #LoveEveryMinute pic.twitter.com/GVSATEUHsx

— Super Rugby NZ (@SuperRugbyNZ) March 10, 2024

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