Journey south bears fruit in friendly folk and cup rugby

Southland Stags lock Ray Tatafu will get his first start at Mitre 10 Cup level against Wellington...
Southland Stags lock Ray Tatafu will get his first start at Mitre 10 Cup level against Wellington in Wellington. PHOTO: LOGAN SAVORY
Ray Tatafu wanted to get as far away from Auckland as he could, so Invercargill was the preferred destination.

When he was 14, Tatafu and his family shifted from Tonga to live in New Zealand.

He attended Onehunga College and the lock quickly found himself in the Auckland rugby system.

He wore the blue-and-white hooped jersey from under-16 level through the age-group ranks and on to the Auckland B team.

However, after two years battling away without any luck in cracking Auckland's Mitre 10 Cup squad, he felt it was time for a fresh start.

A fresh start in a rugby sense and also life in general.

"I wanted to get out of Auckland. I was studying at uni and there was a lot of stuff happening outside of footy, so I decided to get as far away as I could and Invercargill was the spot.

"My brother and older sister still live at home so it was big for me to get out and go away on my own."

Tatafu arrived in Invercargill last year and linked with the Blues club in the hope of cracking the Southland Mitre 10 Cup squad.

That wish, however, didn't come true.

He was back playing B rugby, this time for Southland B.

Many rugby players have come south over the years and a initial setback, in terms of Stags selection, has seen them disappear quickly.

Not Tatafu, though.

The 23-year-old remained in Invercargill after last year's rugby season finished, working for an engineering firm and preparing for another club season with Blues.

Invercargill had quickly become home.

"I loved it. I loved everything about Invercargill. A lot of outdoor activities and everyone is friendly; you feel welcome straight away. I'm not looking to go back [to Auckland] anytime soon.

"It helped with some of the Blues families I stayed with; they were good to me. I got a good job as well through Blues," Tatafu said.

Twelve months on from last year's disappointment, Tatafu is now living out his Mitre 10 Cup dream.

He came off the bench in the Stags' opening two games this season and tonight will get his first ever start at Mitre 10 Cup level in the round-three fixture against Wellington in Wellington.

"It's been a long time coming. I'm really looking forward to it," he said.

Tatafu has replaced Ben Fotheringham at lock in one of four changes to the Southland starting line-up.

Reuben Northover gets a start at tighthead prop, replacing Morgan Mitchell, who is out with a shoulder injury.

Northover joins Shaun Stodart and Flynn Thomas in an all-Marist front row.

There has been a change at fullback, where Broc Hooper gets a start on the back of Tauasosi Tuimavave being ruled out.

Hooper was initially signed as first five-eighth cover following injuries to Tayler Adams and Greg Dyer.

Jackson Ormond returns to start on the wing, replacing his brother Lewis Ormond, who drops to the bench and Rory van Vugt drops out of the squad.

Southland fans are also likely to get their first look at midfielder Ray Nu'u, who is named on the bench.

Nu'u has previously been part of the Crusaders' wider training group and shifted south this year for an opportunity with Southland.

He has missed the first two games because of an ankle injury.

Southland v Wellington 

Southland: Broc Hooper, Isaac Te Tamaki, Aleki Morris-Lome, Matt Johnson, Jackson Ormond, James Wilson (co-captain), Jay Renton, Tony Lamborn, Phil Halder, Wade McRae, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Ray Tatafu, Reuben Northover, Flynn Thomas (co-captain), Shaun Stodart. Reserves: Andrew Ready, Joe Walsh, Chris Apoua, Ben Fotheringham, Bill Fukofuka, Nico Costa, Ray Nu’u, Lewis Ormond.

Wellington: Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, Matt Proctor (captain), Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Malo Tuitama, Jackson Garden-Bachop, TJ Perenara, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Will Mangos, James Blackwell, Joel Hintz, Asafo Aumua, Tolu Fahamokioa. Reserves: James O’Reilly, Xavier Numia, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Galu Taufale, Greg Foe, Carlos Price, TJ Va’a, Billy Proctor.

Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan).


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