When he runs out in a Tonga shirt in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon, Ma’afu Fia will finally get to represent his nation of birth after what could be described as a number of missed opportunities.
A mixture of injuries and family commitments have meant that, until now, the dream hasn’t become a reality, but with the irony of his long awaited debut coming against the country he has called home for the last three years, the prop is looking forward to testing himself at international level.
On four previous occasions the tight head has come close to representing Tonga on four previous occasions, but as they say, good things come to those who wait.
“I was born and raised in Tonga” he said.
“I spent my primary school years there and moved to New Zealand when I was 12. It’s nice to get the opportunity to play international rugby. I’ve had opportunities to play for Tonga in the past, but it was always a case of bad timing. The first time I was asked in 2013, I had just had my first child so I couldn’t play for them then. I was hoping to play at the last World Cup, but I ended up having a serious knee injury during the Super Rugby season which ruled me out for nine months.
“I’ve had a few niggles while I’ve been at the Ospreys so I wanted to set myself up with them first and get a bit of rugby under my belt there because they are the ones who pay my wages. I was then supposed to play for Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup earlier this year, but we had just had our third child. We’ve got no family in Wales to help my wife out with the children so it was either a case of leaving my wife with a new born and two young children for three weeks or stick around and give her a hand. I decided to stay.”
Fia’s family values are clear and even though he spent the early part of his rugby career in New Zealand, the 28-year-old was always going to represent Tonga – the country of his birth. Fia sees representing Tonga as the ultimate honour and his journey to the red number three shirt has had its fair share of twists and turns.
Educated at the prestigious Palmerston North Boys’ High School on New Zealand’s north island, Fia played his school rugby alongside former All Blacks and current Montpellier star Aaron Cruden. Having played his provincial rugby for Manawatu, the powerful prop spent three seasons with the Highlanders and was a part of their 2015 Super Rugby winning squad, joining the Ospreys later that year.
“It will mean a lot to win my first cap against Wales” he said.
“I am Tongan first and everything else second. I’ve still got family back in Tonga and I’m pretty proud to be Tongan. Playing for them is a representation of not only my heritage, but my family and friends too. It will be a pretty proud moment. One of my main goals is to represent Tonga at the World Cup in Japan next year. That’s something I’m definitely trying to achieve.
“It will be a proud moment for me and my family to face Wales. It will be a shame my extended family can’t make it over, but my wife and three kids will be there. My wife is a Kiwi, but I think she will be Tongan for the week. It will be a fantastic day.”