USA Rugby Headquaters – The Eagles’ 31-man squad for their Rugby World Cup warmup matches against Canada, Harlequins and Australia came with one major surprise in the form of young, uncapped prop/hooker Joseph Taufete’e of Belmont Shore. Nick Attewell caught up with Taufete’e to get to know the newest member of the USA player pool.
Nick Attewell: Congratulations on your selection, Joe! Tell us a bit about your background; which sports did you play growing up, how did you first come to rugby?
Joseph Taufete’e: Growing up I always had interests in both basketball and football. Being a bigger kid growing up, I dreamed about being in the NBA and NFL at the same time. As time passed, I slowly realized that my build fit football best. So, I pursued football more seriously and became fairly good at it. Funny story about how I got into rugby: I was playing football at Santa Ana Community College near Los Angeles. It was my final year at the junior college level and I had a couple offers to continue playing college football at the next level. I was dating this lady at the time who is now my wife. Her family was so involved with the youth program at Belmont Shore. Her cousins would talk about rugby all the time when we would visit. They talked about all the guys they knew that were doing so well. And the guys they would talk about were around my age. They loved being in the rugby atmosphere. So, I thought to myself that maybe if I played for the Belmont Shore U19s that they would like me a little bit more! So, my first time ever playing rugby I was trying to balance football practice in Santa Ana and driving to Dolphin Park in Carson just so I could impress my lady and her family.
NA: Coming from an American football background, did you find it easy to transition to rugby? Which skills did you find to be transferable and which took some time to learn?
JT: Like anyone in their first game of rugby from football, I racked up all of the team’s penalties. The physicality of rugby I adjusted to fairly well. The thing I had a harder time adjusting to is the ball skills. I played defense in American football and that was my main focus. Being able to run and pass with the ball took some time to adjust to.
NA: You have played in the back row and front row. Which position are you most comfortable at? What are your strengths as a player?
JT: I feel that being a back rower gave me a loose cannon type of mentality. I felt it was easier to get around. I love that feeling, but I just can’t get away from the mental battles that front rowers have with the opposition. There’s just a different feeling when there’s a scrum and you get to go face to face with your opposite number. At this level of rugby I find it more comfortable in the front row. I love running lines and giving us go-forward ball, and I feel like that’s something I could contribute and offer to this team.
NA: How did your call up to Eagles camp come about? It must have been quite an honor to receive the invite.
JT: I was a day-camper at the pre-PNC games. I went there with one thing in mind. God blessed me with this opportunity, so I’m going to come in and put my best foot forward. I worked the whole season just for this opportunity. That was all I wanted, one opportunity. It wasn’t easy to go in and show my best attributes just because the focus of the camp was to prepare for Samoa. So, when I got the chance to show out, I gave it what I could. Leaving camp I was confident that I put my all into the time I had. When I got the email inviting me to the pre World Cup assembly, my jaw dropped. I was in a meeting for the Huddle Christian Fellowship preparing for our annual Labor Day Tournament when I received the email. I wanted to well up in happiness! I shared it with everyone there and they jumped and cheered and all the phones came out and we started taking pictures.
NA: You spent some time in New Zealand last year. How did that change you as a player? Do you have ambitions to play overseas professionally or would you prefer to remain in the US?
JT: New Zealand was the best thing that happened to me and my game. I was surrounded by players that played top rugby, from the likes of some former Fijian internationals like Anthony Wise and Viliame Seuseu to players like Rory Grice, Ted Tauroa, Zak Honeck, Murry Iti, Solo Korovatu, Joe Pirawiti, Dylan Collier and Jackson Willison. Being surrounded by that caliber of player, you knew what was expected. You knew what was expected from each other.
I do have the dream to play overseas professionally. I have fallen in love with rugby. I don’t want to stop here. I don’t see myself being the same today. I see myself getting better each day and pursuing that dream to play somewhere overseas.
NA: Do you have any favorite rugby players or athletes that inspire you?
JT: I would say the one who inspires me is Steph Curry. His faith in God’s plan for him inspires me. He overcame being labelled as a “small” or “undersized” player. He didn’t let that dictate whether he could do great things or not.
NA: What are your aims in Eagles camp? Do you have any specific goals?
JT: I want to contribute as much as I can as a player to this team. My short term goal is to give every bit each day. My long term goal is to get my first cap and be on that 32-man roster that goes to England.
NA: Lastly, if you do make the World Cup squad, what would you most look forward to in England?
JT: Just to be a part of something great is amazing. I would look forward to experiencing the atmosphere of being at a Rugby World Cup!
NA: Thanks for your time, and good luck in the upcoming matches!
You can also see Joe’s YouTube highlights:
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