From Fiji U17 football team to dream Wallabies call-up: Filipo Daugunu's remarkable rugby journey
When people talk of code switches within the world of rugby, it’s usually about players transitioning between rugby union and rugby league.
In the case of those such as Jarryd Hayne and Christian Wade, there are a few examples of rugby players coming in and out of the NFL, while others like former Wallabies pair Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt have both had stints in Aussie Rules.
There aren’t many, though, who initially made a name for themselves as football players while growing up before making a career out of rugby, but that’s exactly what new Wallabies wing Filipo Daugunu has done.
One of 16 new caps named in Dave Rennie’s 44-man Wallabies squad last month for the upcoming Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, the 25-year-old could be in line to make his international debut against the All Blacks in Wellington next Sunday.
Such a feat would be a remarkable milestone given where Daugunu started as a national age-grade football representative for his native Fiji.
Born in the town of Labasa, Daugunu played both the round-ball and oval-ball codes as a schoolboy, going on to represent Fiji at junior levels in both sports.
He told media on Friday that juggling the two sports was a tricky balancing act, recalling how as a youngster he would play in sevens tournaments, leave early to play in a football match, and then return to finish off the tournament.
You would be excused for thinking he was speedy wing or prolific striker due to his impressive athleticism during his time with the Fiji U17 football side, but the try-scoring Reds wing said he was instead picked as a goalkeeper.
“In high school I was doing high jump,” Daugunu said. “That’s why they picked me up, because I jump high, so they called me to try goalkeeper.”
Part of the squad that finished fourth in their group at the 2011 Oceania U17 Championship in Auckland, Daugunu managed one appearance off the bench in a 1-0 loss to New Zealand.
Just 10 days out from the opening Bledisloe Cup test against the All Blacks, there is a debate brewing among the Wallabies coaches.https://t.co/5hEbXgZJtz
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 1, 2020
Four years later, he was representing Fiji again, this time at the 2015 World Rugby U20 Trophy in Portugal, scoring two tries and kicking two conversions across four matches en route to a fifth-place finish.
Fast forward a further five years, and Daugunu is now in Christchurch as he prepares to play for his adopted nation, the one he moved to in 2017 after being involved in Fiji’s national sevens set-up.
Opting to play club rugby in Brisbane rather than play on the World Sevens Series for the Flying Fijians appears to have paid dividends following multiple standout seasons in both the National Rugby Championship and Super Rugby.
Only qualifying to play for Australia on residency grounds this year, Daugunu said he is fulfilling the dream he has held since first relocating to Queensland.
“It means a lot to me, my family back home,” he said of possibly running out in the green and gold jersey at Sky Stadium next week.
“When I moved here, my dream was to play Wallabies, and to play first game with the All Blacks would be [special].”
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