Heinz Schenk
3 minute read
28 Jan 2020
5:13 am

Nafi Tuitavake might just be the everyday hero the Bulls need

Heinz Schenk

The Tongan import is more famous for the connections he's made around him, but he's carved out a decent reputation himself.

Nafi Tuitavake during his stint with Northampton. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Late last year, Nafi Tuitavake sat at home in New Zealand a concerned man.

In fact, he admits he was “pretty worried”.

The 31-year-old centre’s World Cup campaign with Tonga had just come to a shuddering halt after he broke his arm against Eddie Jones’ Englishmen.

A free agent following his departure from the Northampton Saints after a successful three years, Tuitavake didn’t allow his status – injured and contract-less – to get him down.

He worked hard and got the all-clear from his surgeon.

Almost immediately afterwards, his agent informed him he’d offered his services to a few potential teams, one of them the Bulls.

“He told me they’re interested and asked me if I’m interested. I told him, ‘Yeah I’d be interested of course,” Tuitavake, who arrived in South Africa last week after a visa delay, said at Loftus on Monday.

Yet the Auckland native was steeling himself for a bit of cat-and-mouse.

Foreign-based stars don’t exactly come in droves to South Africa to play Super Rugby and, given his own status as a relatively unknown player to a local audience, Tuitavake expected the Bulls to take their time.

Nafi Tuitavake playing for Tonga. / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE

“So imagine my surprise when I received an offer three days later,” he said.

“It all happened very quickly after that. I’m finally here and I’m grateful. I’ve been adjusting to the altitude and sun a bit, but it’s good times.”

The suits also didn’t exactly have to convince him about the lure of Loftus.

As a former Crusader, he experienced the full brunt of Bulls passion and power in a 31-19 defeat in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity to be involved with a great club. It’s a challenge I’ve been willing to take up,” said Tuitavake.

“I’ve played here before with the Crusaders. I remember it was a day where the result definitely didn’t go our way. It’s a tough place to play if you’re not turning out for the home side!”

While there are expectations that he’s relatively close to being a like-for-like replacement for Springbok star Jesse Kriel, the 14-Test midfielder humbly regards himself as a decent player with some famous connections.

His brother, Anthony, was an accomplished All Blacks and Blues winger, while he was also Dan Carter’s roommate, a man regarded as one of the greatest flyhalves in history.

“I was pretty lucky just to be Anthony’s shadow and follow in his footsteps. I tried to learn as much as I could from him, he’s a great sibling,” said Tuitavake.

“And ah man, when I was in Dan’s company I tended to stay quiet. Whatever he had to offer, I listened. Socially, I was also a bit star-struck to be honest. I idolised him. He’s a great team man and great bloke. We became good friends.”

Even though he considers himself a sponge of sorts, Tuitavake deserves some credit himself for exposing himself to different conditions and becoming a more rounded player, notably taking the plunge and making the trek to the Saints and the English Premiership.

“I’m pretty confident with what I can offer the boys here. I’m one of the older fellas in this team, so I’ll have to keep up a bit with the young guys. But I’ve had my taste of Super Rugby and I’ve experienced Europe. I have big boots to fills, so I just want to give back as much as I can for this opportunity,” he said.

And that’s probably why the Bulls felt him an attractive signing.

Tuitavake is no superstar.

But he might be the everyday hero a team in transition needs.

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