Bryn Palmer

Tonga's secret weapon - all the way from Stourbridge (31)

Paris - Heard the one about the Tongan player with the pop star name who warmed up for the World Cup with a season in the third division of English rugby?

No? Well read on.

Regular followers of the Guinness Premiership might have recognised a few names in the Tongan 22 to face England in their win-or-bust pool clash on Friday.

There’s hooker Aleki Lutui and replacement wing Aisea Havili, who both ply their trade with Worcester.

Then you’ve got prop Soane Tonga’uiha, who also earned a crust in the top flight last season before Northampton were relegated, and replacement hooker Ephraim Taukafa, who had two years with Leicester from 2004 to 2006.

And, of course, there is former Sale and Newcastle centre Epi Taione, who left the Sharks under a cloud after receiving an 18-week ban for biting.

But also primed to spring off the bench will be Soane Patita Pat Boone Sioape Havea, to give him his full, magnificent nomenclature.

Havea is, according to the man who coached him last season, “a scrum-half who looks like a tight-head prop”, and arrived at this global jamboree after a year endearing himself to everyone at Stourbridge Rugby Club, in England’s National League Two.

“He is an incredible character,” says Neil Mitchell, the director of rugby at Stourbridge. “I never met anyone like him, he is by far the best and most interesting player I have ever coached.


“He’s as wide as he‘s tall but he’s a tremendous scrum-half, a very committed player and the most energetic person. When he was here he had orange hair and gold teeth – the crowd loved him.”

So what about that name? “We never did get to the bottom of it,” Mitchell said.

If there are any Stourbridge supporters out there who did, or Tongan fans in the know, do get in touch, but I thought the least I could do was try.

Pat Boone, for those of you not up on your early rhythm and blues, is an American crooner who had a string of hits in the late 1950s, when his teen idol status was second only to Elvis Presley, apparently.

He later moved into gospel and country music, although some of you might be familiar with his cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s song “Crazy Train”, the theme tune for the reality show “The Osbournes”.

Ozzy, Sharon and co. used to live next door to Boone, now 73, in Los Angeles incidentally.

Anyway, one presumes his music found its way to Mausanga, the village in Tonga from where Havea hails, although when I asked him about his name, he said he knew nothing of any potential homage to a fifties legend.

“Really? I didn’t know that. It is just my uncle’s name.”

Havea does have a musical side though. Well, he's sung in public on at least one occasion. “Just before he left I was co-erced into singing some stupid karaoke number with him,” Mitchell recalled.

Havea chuckled at the memory. What was the song? “I can’t remember, I was drunk!” he chortled.

On Friday the 27-year-old will be part of Tonga’s bid for a historic quarter-final place in front of 45,000 fans at the Parc des Princes.

So how did he end up in the West Midlands taking on the likes of Wharfedale and Waterloo in front of Stourbridge’s 450-seater main stand at Stourton Park?

Initially he came over to visit his friend Taukafa at Leicester, after a tour with Tonga in the autumn of 2005 that took in Tests with Italy and France.

He used to go and watch the Tigers train as well as their matches, so he should be genned up on at least five players on duty for England on Friday.

Another Tongan friend, Hessie Fa'atua, played for Pertemps Bees, formerly Birmingham and Solihull, in National League One, where Havea had a brief trial.

“I wanted to play for them, but they wouldn’t put me in the team, so Hessie told me to come to Stourbridge, where he had gone on loan,” he said. “It was wonderful, all the people supported me really well.”

They’d love him to come back, but new regulations concerning amateur players and visa requirements for foreign players in the National Leagues make that unlikely.

Havea is one of 10 children, with his three brothers and six sisters scattered to all parts including the USA and New Zealand.

He doesn’t currently have a club – “my agent is working on it at the moment” – but doesn’t lack for support while Tonga’s stirring deeds continue at this World Cup.

“Man, the people back home are very happy about the way we are playing,” he says, citing the barrage of phone calls and emails that have flooded in to the team’s base near Montpellier.

On Thursday they travel to Paris ahead of the big game, which kicks off at 8am on Saturday morning in Tonga.

So it could be a long day in the Pacific Ocean archipelago if Havea and company turn over the world champions.

They might even raise a glass or two at Stourton Park in honour of their favourite Tongan.

Bryn Palmer is the BBC Sport website’s rugby union editor.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 02:56 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Elizabeth Grint wrote:

GO TONGA! GO SOA! GO PAT BOONE :-). I have also been told that back in Tonga Soane has been nicknamed "the baby" as he looks so young and small compared to the other players. He is such a lovely person and we are all rooting for him and the whole team and I am not surprised that he is held in great esteem in Stourbridge. We are so so SO proud of the Tonga team and our prayers go out to them (and the England team). As a Tongan this is one of the most exciting things to happen to us in a very long time. But as I am married to an English man I had better also say "Go England" (half-heartedly).

  • 2.
  • At 07:42 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • stephen [reeve-tucker] wrote:

One witnesses some pretty awful refereeing decisions at this world cup, and indeed at previous world cups (was that final throw-in at Sydney straight?!), such as a final warning being given for a red-card high tackle that has the first-aiders chasing the victim's head across the turf, but this insidious weakness in the system extends to the simple matter of where a penalty kick is taken from.

Time and time again, one sees a referee awarding a penalty about forty-five metres from the try-line and six metres in from the touchline.

By the time the kicker has gone through his rigmarole of putting the ball down, picking it up, wiping it, testing the wind, and all the other necessary rituals, he will kick it from thirty-nine metres out and ten metres in.

As any hopeful golfer will know, improved perspective equals improved confidence, higher chance of success, and an unfair advantage.

Referees should be more alert to this blatant gamesmanship.

How about borrowing from American football, and throwing down a handkerchief marker to mark the spot, which the kicker removes only as he steps back to take his run-up? Or awarding a scrum to the opposing team if a penalty is taken from the wrong place?

  • 3.
  • At 11:42 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • RFUMAD1 wrote:

I'd stick to golf mate!

  • 4.
  • At 02:12 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

Come on you irish Tonga and their green hair!!,,2177919,00.html

  • 5.
  • At 02:15 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

Come on you irish Tonga and their green hair!!

See Today's Guarian or Irish Time ssports sections for details

  • 6.
  • At 02:20 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Phil Space wrote:

In the last few weeks I've read some of the most inane drivel imaginable on this website which is supposed to be about the rugby world cup. Instead of discussions offering insight, new information to the fans, analysis of tactics and knowledge we have been treated to dreadful nonsense which so often has nothing to do with rugby. Symptom of the age - too many overpaid, overrated "journalists" with too much time on their hands and too much space to fill. I want my licence fee back!

  • 7.
  • At 04:44 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • gordon wrote:

Why are tongans and the other south pacific countries so poor at their set pieces when they have players playing in major rugby leagues around the world?

  • 8.
  • At 04:53 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Clive Kent wrote:

Please tell this scrum half that looks like a prop, that Northampton Saints need a good scrum half as soon as possible. The crowd at Franklin's Gardens will give him a fine welcome.

  • 9.
  • At 04:56 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • stu williams wrote:

i play 4 stourbridge under 16s he is an awesome player and stourbridge are going up this season !!

  • 10.
  • At 05:23 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • stu wrote:

he is the best player ever and he has the best hairstyle us stourbridge guys will miss him

  • 11.
  • At 09:59 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Olivier wrote:

60 Million French behind me:
GO TONGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 12.
  • At 10:10 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • L.Huni wrote:

with or without the green hair,that doesnt change your NATIONALITY 'IKALE TAHI,its what you had inside you...Y*O*U*R*E T*O*N*G*A*N so do your part as well to the ENGLAND TEAM.

SPREAD YOUR WINGS AND FLY 'IKALE,cos tomorrow depend on what you did today.


  • 13.
  • At 11:34 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Luisa Haungatau wrote:

If the world only knew how much we Tongans love this sport we call RUGBY. It is the love of the game, playing from our hearts and giving it our all....that we've come this far. Though, we maybe small in numbers compared to the rest of the world....we Tongans are known for having the BIGGEST hearts. Ironically, we come from the smallest Kingdom in the world. Our hearts are behind you Team TONGA...whether you take The Cup or have made all Tongans acroos the world proud and we THANK YOU! Tua ofa atu....Luisa Haungatau, San Francisco, Ca.

  • 14.
  • At 12:26 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • nativeman wrote:

go Tonga!!!
estimating....1000 registered senior rugby players
1,000,000 registered senior rugby players

population of Tonga 100,000
England 60million

Lets not talk about GDP or economic status

this is a true DAVID vs Galiath show down...

GO TONGA!! England don't deserve to win based on performances for the past 3 years leading into this world cup. We have played pathetic rugby since 2003, where as Tonga have played brillantly!!

  • 15.
  • At 01:11 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • MT Space wrote:

I've found plenty of discussions offering insight, new information to the fans, analysis of tactics and knowledge on the Pat Boone website. Can I have my licence fee back too?

1000 registered players with many of the best being poached by NZ!

  • 17.
  • At 02:19 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • BRYAN wrote:

N.o.15 If you don't know any thing about NZ you could look at a map and see that NZ is a large Pacific Island populated with PI's. Any one else out there would also take note that in rugby you play test's matchs between 2 country's best players, If the country you come from can't get a team together thats not our fault your a bunch of losers.
And to our bros in Tonga.
Go Tonga we know you can win.

  • 18.
  • At 04:29 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Shaun M wrote:

Working Nomad comment 15

Now, a less charitable person would have to conclude that you are just trolling for a response. So sooner than disappoint you, here it is.

Of the eight All Blacks who were born outside of New Zealand (seven having migrated with their families to New Zealand around the age of five, the other coming with his family as a teenager) only one, Sione Lauaki, is Tongan. And yes, he was one of the players who arrived as a small child.

So, when you say Tongan players are being poached by the New Zealand Rugby Union, what you actually mean is, a Tongan five year old was recruited by the NZRU? Doesn’t sound all that likely to me.

By the way: GO TONGA!!!!!!

  • 19.
  • At 08:57 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Bruce wrote:

The members of the New Zealand team were either born here or migrated here with their families (only one as old as a teenager) and have New Zealand passports as resident citizens (no AB is resident overseas if they are to eligible to represent the NZRFU).

How many players playing for Ireland Scotland or Wales or England were born there or have citizenship in these "countries"? (note while there is an Irish passport many of the Ulster players don;t have one).

There is no Scottish or Welsh or English passport - only a British one of the UK.

  • 20.
  • At 09:30 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Max wrote:

#18 bruce,

That is a sterling piece of trolling, however you forgetfully omitted that chestnut concerning the playing of "Ireland's call" rather than "Amhrán na bhFiann"

Looking forward to seeing some closely fought games this weekend, starting with this one...

  • 21.
  • At 09:45 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • The Phil wrote:

re: 18

I would imagine the following members have a UK passport:

Paddy Wallace
Neil Best
Simon Best
Rory Best
Bryan Young
Stephen Ferris
Andrew Trimble

This is more a political decision than a sporting one and it's to do with their parents than themselves. Anywho, anyone born in the north is entitled to a Republic of Ireland passport...but that's irrelevant, Ireland (the rugby team) represent the island of Ireland and not the Republic of Ireland, this has always been the way (well since they became two seperate countries...a whole other rant).

Isaac Boss is a kiwi, not sure which passport he went for as his Granny was from Antrim, so could be either.

I suppose ROG is the only one I know of that falls foul of your rule having been born in San Diego with a US passport.

  • 22.
  • At 09:54 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Jules wrote:

The Kiwis get very defensive when you accuse them of poaching islanders don't they?

My club, playing at level 6 in England, had a Samoan stand-off last season who's was visiting for a year from NZ. His story was that he was offered NZ citizenship if he would play rugby there. Unfortunately for him (and them), he didn't grow into the massive man they were hoping for and it doesn't look like an All Black career beckons although I believe he is playing for one of the NPC teams' development squad at the moment...

In England we have plenty of players who were born overseas either in the England squad or registered to be able to play for England - e.g Mike Catt, Matt Stevens, Mark Van Gisbergen to name but a few but the difference is that we don't send scouts and coaches to plunder our neighbours of their talent - mind you, it's not as though many Irish, Welsh, Scots or Frenchmen would accept English 'citizenship' over their own nationality because we can't offer them anything better than they have at home...

  • 23.
  • At 01:06 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • David Dods wrote:

Three years ago a young prop arrived in Bedford to learn something about English rugby. After a brief period of acclimatisation he was brought off the bench in a National League 1 match and immediately erupted onto the scene with a twenty yard carry and with the majority of the opposition either bouncing off him or clinging on to him in a vain attempt to get him to ground. The crowd reaction was instantaneous and a local hero was born. Regrettably his was a talent that exceeded National 1 and he left to ply his trade up the road at Franklins Gardens with Northampton. England will ignore Soane Tonga'uiha at their peril tonight. He is an instinctive carrier of the ball,a pocket battleship in the maul and destructive in the tackle - in fact a typical Pacific Islander.
It is no surprise that so many South sea islanders seem to generate such friendship and respect when they come to these shores if Soane is taken as a yardstick. Good luck Tonga and may it be a memorable battle.
P.S. I don't suppose you have any Nos 12 or 13 with pace and power looking for a job? Bedford could do with something a bit special at the moment.

  • 24.
  • At 02:27 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Bruce wrote:

The only scouts we have in New Zealand are those for the Super 14 teams or the NPC teams. Just as you have scouts for your club teams.

Can anyone name any players scouted to play for the AB's who has played for New Zealand?

  • 25.
  • At 02:55 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Bruce wrote:

Re replies to my post 18

That Ireland (rugby) is an island and not (completely) a republic/nation of the UN is one of the quirks of politcal history (which occured after rugby internationals began).

The other quirks of inter-national sport is the status of Northern Ireland (in football) Wales and Scotland in British origined sports (football/rugby).

That and things like the haka are part of the tradition.

It's just that when people talk about, people born in New Zealand or who came here with migrating parents as children, as players poached from some other country. Well one tires of pointing out the ignorance involved and for variation makes a comparison.

How many people born in England of Welsh or Scots or Irish ancestry play for them or England?

Polynesian ancestry New Zealanders have a choice too. Many of Samoa's players were born in New Zealand.

  • 26.
  • At 03:26 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Michael Lewis wrote:

That is incorrect. Some NZ schools took it upon themselves (if not directly sponsored by the NZRFU - though its open to debate) to go the PI and offer scholarships to some very good rugby playing PI's. The upside for NZ being that after a few years living in NZ these kids could go through the rugby development system.

  • 27.
  • At 04:10 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • GoatsDontShave wrote:

In reply to Gordon (post 7) - "Why are tongans and the other south pacific countries so poor at their set pieces when they have players playing in major rugby leagues around the world"

I believe the answer is in your question! Their players are scattered all over the world, so they don't train together very often (having a Union with no cash doesn't help). As a result they are not as drilled as they could be so their set pieces are not very good. However they are good at the off the cuff stuff, which makes them a joy to watch.

  • 28.
  • At 04:14 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • GoatsDontShave wrote:

In reply to Gordon (post 7) - "Why are tongans and the other south pacific countries so poor at their set pieces when they have players playing in major rugby leagues around the world"

I believe the answer is in your question! Their players are scattered all over the world, so they don't train together very often (having a Union with no cash doesn't help). As a result they are not as drilled as they could be so their set pieces are not very good. However they are good at the off the cuff stuff, which makes them a joy to watch.

  • 29.
  • At 04:16 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • GoatsDontShave wrote:

Gordon (post 7). "Why are tongans and the other south pacific countries so poor at their set pieces when they have players playing in major rugby leagues around the world"

I believe the answer is in the last part of your question.

  • 30.
  • At 06:51 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Jan Capewell wrote:

I was fortunate enough to be Soane's under study. Im 18 ans on a first team contract ast stourbridge but amist of all the confusion with his name, to keep it simple everyone called him'Rodders' due to his uncanny similarities to that of Rodney Trotter from Only Fools and Horses. He maybe is the Tongan version in the way he manages to dispatch good ball. But certainly his energy and enthusiasm for life was second to none, and he was an inspiration to all around him at stourbridge. Well Done Rodders and best of luck with the world cup - just have a bad game against England ; )

  • 31.
  • At 04:33 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Bruce wrote:

Re post 26, the NZRFU does not finance schools or schools scouting players. There is nothing to debate.

As to whether any foreign born player has obtained a scholarship to go to a school in New Zealand and then played for the AB's (well as to the current AB's, most of the players born overseas came prior to secondary school age WITH their migrating families). There may have been one teenager amongst them Sivivatu comes to mind.

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