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Glasgow signing Seiuli's RWC dilemma

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'My old man was keen for me to go and play for Samoa, but he knew it wasn't for the best'

Across the paddock, Aki Seiuli and Siua Halanukonuka locked eyes for a barely a beat, a fleeting look that heralded the gleeful, unremitting destruction these two monstrous specimens were about to visit upon the British and Irish Lions.

With eight minutes of a sensational back-and-forth contest in Dunedin left, their Highlanders trailed by two points. The tourists had a scrum deep in their own territory, wide on the left flank. The home pack was tired, but they reckoned the Lions were worse.

Down the big men went. The forwards grasped each other then crashed together like rutting stags. Seiuli seized his moment. Steeling his huge frame, the loosehead surged forward, buckling Dan Cole and propelling his pack in an irrepressible navy tsunami. Cole, the great rock of the Leicester and England front row, was mangled like a twig underfoot. 

Penalty Highlanders. Dreadlocks sprouting over his headband, Seiuli roared like he had just run in a try from 80 metres. Marty Banks, a slight, mop-headed cult hero in those parts of South Island, banged over the match-winning goal. The killer blow forged by the behemoths, Seiuli and Halanukonuka – a near-quarter-ton of unstoppable Pacific Islands beef.

“I remember looking at Siua and we were looking at the posts, we knew we were in kicking range,” Seiuli told RugbyPass about that thunderous set-piece back in June 2017. “We were all pumped up for that scrum and we got that penalty. We knew Marty was going to get it.

(Continue reading below…)

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“It wasn’t a pre-planned shove; it was just one of those natural instincts. I kept joking with Marty that I asked him before the scrum if he wanted the penalty or not!

“The build-up to that game was awesome. We had people coming in who had beaten the Lions telling us about their experiences, seeing the town flow with more people, heaps of Lions fans, you could feel that atmosphere building into that game from the start of the week. It’s definitely up there as my No1 career moment.”

Seiuli and Halanukonuka will be pulverising together again soon, not in Dunedin or on the arduous Super Rugby circuit, but half the world away in Glasgow. Halanukonuka has spent two years here already and is signed up for two more when he gets back from Tonga’s World Cup adventure. 

 

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Seiuli is the latest recruit of Dave Rennie’s Warriors, a bristling carrier of the ball who ought to fit seamlessly into his new team’s high-tempo strategy. “Siua and I were together when the Highlanders were doing well under Tony Brown,” explained the 26-year-old, who has played all of his professional rugby in Otago.

“He compared Glasgow to that and said it was pretty similar in how they like to play a fast-paced game, and that everyone just gets on really well in the environment. I was pretty keen after that.”

Seiuli has long desired to play overseas. A dreadful anterior cruciate ligament injury last October meant he played no Super Rugby in 2019 and with his contract expiring, this was the perfect time to go.

He got back playing for Otago in the provincial Mitre 10 Cup last month – a rung below Super Rugby, but still a storied and prestigious competition in New Zealand – and will arrive in Glasgow when his side’s part in the tournament is done, likely in late October or early November.

“Rugby’s not going to be there forever. Using rugby to explore the world was one of my goals. Glasgow gave me an offer and it was too good to turn down. I want to go see the world and I love meeting new people.”

Were it not for the heinous blow of that knee injury, Seiuli could also be out in Japan just now. Although born and raised in New Zealand, his parents are Samoan, each having emigrated in their late teens in search of better work and more prosperous lives.

Steve Jackson, the Samoa coach, would have had him in his World Cup training squad. Seiuli longed to go, but thrusting his newly-recovered knee into a tumultuous camp was too great a risk, showcasing himself to the rugby world in anything but his finest light too big a worry.

“With my knee, I didn’t know if I was ready to go from a serious injury to playing, and then potentially playing on the world stage,” he said. “I thought it was best for me to slowly build into that and focus on Glasgow – getting my injury right, getting back on the field and playing Mitre 10.

“Then once I get to Glasgow, I should be ready for that. But the Samoa coaches respected that. My old man was pretty supportive, he was keen for me to go and play for them, but he knew it wasn’t for the best. It was a brave decision but hopefully I’ll get to the stage where I can play for Samoa again if the opportunity comes up.”

Rennie will not want for looseheads this season. Oli Kebble, the humungous South African, was his brilliant premier option last season, a titan in the set-piece and footballing juggernaut around the field. Alex Allan brings zip and soft handling in open play and young Charlie Capps and George Thornton have arrived eager to upset the pecking order.

Seiuli is wonderfully unique among his new team-mates and rivals. He has the immense power of a prop with the dynamism, pace and handling of a nimble back row. His strides are rapid, like a bloke who is constantly navigating his way through a speed ladder, and he wrenches his 118kg bulk from left to right with serious agility.

“I like to have the ball in hand and carry, I like fast-paced rugby, and while you have got to know your core roles as a prop with the set-piece, I also like to get the ball in hand and try to create a bit of razzle,” he continued.

“I’ve had a talk to Dave Rennie a couple of times and he told me all about that stuff, what I can bring. I’m happy to get in there and work hard and try and make something out of it, whether it’s starting, off the bench or not even in the team, I’m just happy to be in the environment and bring a bit of edge.”

Brutality in the tight, “razzle” on the open prairie. The results this season should be fun.

WATCH: Neil Back recalls England’s 2003 World Cup triumph in the opening episode of Rugby World Cup Memories, the new RugbyPass series 

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'My old man was keen for me to go and play for Samoa, but he knew it wasn't for the best'