Tongan muscle drives Loffie's Austin

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 11:58
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Former South African Under-19 coach Eugene Eloff stole the headlines when he left for North America last year.

Eloff is not the only South African name in the Austin Huns set-up.

There is Springbok Pedrie Wannenburg (who has taken to coaching and is now their defence and forwards coach), Christiaan De Wet (technical skills coach and video analysis) and Daniel de Villiers (backs and attack coach) - along with a host of players like Kyle Breytenbach, Martin Knoetze, Deon Minnaar and Jacobus Germishuys.

However, there is another driving force at the Austin Huns that has them sitting pretty at the top of the Red River Senior Men's Division One.

His name is Lomani Tongotongo and he is the Huns captain.

Tongotongo was about to give up on his playing career and started taking up coaching, before a call from a 'friend' saw him move from New Zealand to America - where he joined the Huns.

He describes as "amazing" the second chance he has been given.

Tongotongo, born on the small island of Tonga in the South Pacific, moved to New Zealand when he was just three years old.

"My first ever rugby position was at hooker and that was when I was in primary school," he said.

"The coach pretty much just asked who wanted to be No.1 and my friend was the fastest to put up his hand," he said, adding: "So when the coach said who wants to be No.2, I made sure I was the next fastest at putting my hand up."

He played for Onehunga high school first 15 for two years and was selected for the Auckland Under-19 team in his final year of school.

He then moved through the Auckland system - playing Under-21 and Under-23, before moving south to Invercargill to play for the Eastern Hawks club.

He was named in the Southland Stags (National Provincial Championship) team a year later and that's where his semi-professional career kicked off.

He then played professionally in Japan for five years for the Blue Zoomerz.

"When I had finished my contract I decided to become a coach, so I started my IRB level 2 coaching certificate.

"That came to a sudden stop when my friend Thierry Daupin [Huns General Manager] emailed me and asked if I wanted to play a season in Austin, Texas for the Austin Huns.

"I was sceptical at first, because I didn't know anything about Austin or Texas. I was in the middle of completing my Coaching certificate and I had just won the Under-14 Blues franchise championship with the Auckland Central U14 side - where I was the backs coach.

"After doing a little bit of research and talking to Kirk Tate [head coach at the time], I decided to make the move to Austin to play for the Huns.

"My talks with Kirk Tate in the lead up to me moving to Austin was the deciding factor.

"Just hearing about the club culture, their plans for the future and just how excited Kirk was about his club and players is what got me.

"When I came and met the players and got to know the old boys and coaching staff, I knew I had made the right decision.

"By the way, Kirk Tate could sell ice to an Eskimo."

He described his time with the Huns as "amazing".

"I'm really thankful that I have been given a second chance to do what I love and what I am really passionate about.

"Not everyone is given a second chance in life and I'm very blessed that I was given this chance.

"Having these elite coaches - in coach Loffie [Eugene Eloff], coach Danie [de Villiers], coach Pedrie [Wannenburg], James ] [and CJ [Christiaan de Wett] - have really helped me become a better player - even after I thought I had already reached my peak.

"They all have different styles of coaching and they compliment each other well.

"I could go into detail about each coaches coaching style, but I don't want to be dropped to the bench," he quipped.

He said his teammates (or brothers on the team) makes him feel 'old'.

"Trying to keep up with these young gunners takes its toll on the body, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

"They keep me on my toes and keep me striving to be better.

"Now I know how the old guys were feeling when I was the rookie at 19-years-old playing premier rugby.

"I hope that as a rugby player I've done my job in passing on a little knowledge to the young gunners in my team, as I was handed down knowledge from the old boys before me."

@rugby365com