Brought to you by Whanganui Rugby
All we can say is, “thank you, Razor”.
With Steelform Whanganui’s locking resources a little low for the 2021 Bunnings Heartland Championship, and with other unions bringing in current and former All Blacks alike, coach Jason Caskey went to market and secured Canterbury’s Mathew Taula-Fili, who flew in to join the squad on Thursday.
The 24-year-old utility who can cover lock, flanker and No 8 had a dream Heartland debut against Horowhenua-Kapiti on Saturday after he jogged on in the 48th minute at Cooks Gardens.
His first touch of the ball was a drive at the back of a 5m lineout maul to score Whanganui’s bonus point try and take them clear at 26-15, and then 15 minutes later Taula-Fili was again the man at the back of a 5m scrum to control the ball and score his double.
While the young Samoan New Zealander, who is now with Sumner RFC in Christchurch’s beautiful beachfront community, understandably didn’t know much about the history of Whanganui vs Horowhenua-Kapiti clashes, he felt “it was unreal” to have had early success.
Taula-Fili was selected for the Canterbury Development squad this season. It played a short campaign against the fellow development sides from the NPC South Island unions – Otago, Tasman and Southland.
Former All Black and current Crusaders coach Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson then let him know that Caskey was looking for another forward and recommended him for the role.
“He made a reasonable fist of it, pretty hard to jump straight in with training on Thursday and another bit of a run this morning – you’re outside your comfort zone a little bit,” said Caskey.
“But I think he’ll be a quick learner. He’s really keen, he gets his notebook out and writes things – probably that little bit of a difference coming from a professional union.
“He spends a bit of time properly learning; our guys don’t know half the things [with rule changes] because they don’t write anything down.
“I think he’ll quickly come into his own.”
Taula-Fili is looking forward to next weekend’s trip to Timaru against South Canterbury, as his parents and partner will be able to make the drive down from Christchurch for the game.
Tofa notches up 50 games
He may have been cramping up towards the end, but Viki Tofa was grinning ear-to-ear after his 50th first-class game for Steelform Whanganui on Saturday.
A 27-year-old prop and former national boxing champion, Tofa made his Heartland debut against South Canterbury in 2014 and was a key player during the great Bunnings Heartland Championship run of a Lochore Cup that season, followed by the 2015-17 Meads Cup three-peat.
His first-class caps also include three Ranfurly Shield challenges against Waikato, Canterbury and Taranaki.
During that time frame, Tofa played on both sides of the annual NZ Heartland XV vs NZ Marist game, earning his national jersey in 2016 against Marist before going on the two-match tour of Fiji.
Tofa had missed the 2019 Heartland competition and last year’s short representative campaign due to work commitments as a roading contractor, but worked hard to get into shape to take part in this year’s competition.
His is just the latest milestone for Whanganui this season, with first five Dane Whale having played his 50th game at the start of the campaign, followed by halfback Lindsay Horrocks and hooker Roman Tutauha reaching their 75th matches.
Flanker Jamie Hughes should be next, after playing his 47th game on Saturday.