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How rugby saved boxer Belgium

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From boxing to RWC… the curious career path of Samoa's Belgium Tuatagaloa

Belgium Tuatagaloa never grew up imagining that a Test career with Samoa was possible. Boxing was his thing growing up in New Zealand but injury forced a sports reassessment. 

Stepping away from the ring, rugby filled the breach and after establishing himself with the NZ sevens side, he recently became a Samoan XVs international after making a massive sacrifice to ensure he could be selected for the trip to Japan – turning down a professional club contract in France to make sure his availability for the finals wasn’t threatened. 

“I was boxing for eight years in Auckland in New Zealand but I had to stop because I had a head injury and went through some hard times,” he explained about his teenage passion for the gloves which came to an abrupt halt.

“I got sick. I had migraines and couldn’t sleep properly. I had a specialist from the US looking at me and he said I had to quit the sport. I got sad because obviously boxing was something that I wanted to do for a career. Boxing was a way for me to feel free and get my stress out of the way. It made me happy and kept my mind off school.”

Now 30, it was around 2007 as an 18-year-old when rugby began to fill the gap in his life. The thing was, however, he never realised his own potential and he even hung up the phone when New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens first called him.

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“I didn’t know who Gordon Tietjens was. He said: ‘Hey, Belgium, I’ve heard a lot about you and I think that we should invite you to come to a camp’. But I hung up, thinking it was (New Zealand rugby sevens player) Lote Raikabula who was joking around with me.

“Then Lote called me saying, ‘Hey, answer because it is the New Zealand coach’. And I was speechless when he called again. It was probably the best call I’ve ever had.”

His boxing nous has complemented his rugby development. “I’ve got no fear. That’s the only thing that I will say for sure, that I fear no-one and I got that from boxing,” he said. “As a boxer, it’s just you against that other person and once I’m on a rugby field I fear nobody, no matter who you are.”

Tuatagaloa earned his first Test in July, taking on Tonga at Apia, and his ambition to represent Samoa in Japan meant he decided to turn down a contract with French club side Valence Romans.

”I don’t know if it was a bad or a good decision, but I made it for me and now I’ll give it 110 per cent. Some may call it a sacrifice but I would sacrifice anything for this jersey.”

WATCH: The trailer for the new RugbyPass behind the scenes documentary on Tonga’s preparations for the World Cup

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From boxing to RWC… the curious career path of Samoa's Belgium Tuatagaloa