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EIRA Player of the Week - Nafi Maafu

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EIRA Player of the Week - Nafi Maafu

Nafi Maafu on the charge again. Dan Bandoni photo.

It’s hard to think of a turning point in the HS All American tour of British Columbia, given the score lines, but if there is one, it came at the end of the first half of the first game.

At the time, the HSAA team was ahead, having dominated field position for most of the first 30 minutes. But, they had only two tries to show for it, and had just escaped a prime scoring opportunity for the BC U18s. Perhaps in danger of ending the half not quite in control of the match, the Americans got a boost thanks to a brilliant individual effort from Nafitalai Maafu.

Maafu is a lock who plays for Tempe, a HS team that has had to merge with another team each of the last two years due to low numbers. But the tall, athletic second row is something special.

Maafu in for the try. Dan Bandoni photos.
Nafi Maafu
Nafi Maafu
Nafi Maafu

With the first half winding down, Maafu slotted into the backline, took a pass from flyhalf Anton Grigoriou and took off. He skirted around the first defender, switched the ball into his left hand to fend off a guy he ended up simply outrunning. He then sidestepped another would-be tackler, out-ran another diving at his ankles, stepped away from another, and then split two more coming for him - making them slam into the goalpost pads as he dove in under the posts.

He beat six defenders (not counting the ones who didn’t seem interested in going after him) and covered 40 meters. After that, the HS All Americans rolled.

“I was thinking one guy at a time - I took one look overall to see where I could go and what options I had. Back at home they call me a hybrid because I have size but I can also move with the backs. So I like being in the lineouts and scrums and also playing out wide.”

HSAA captain Patrick Madden was in awe, saying that Maafu’s hands are so big he’s able to palm the ball in the lineout - stealing opposition throws that way.

It’s difficult for major select sides to find athletic players who are also tall - 6-4 or more - and who can play in the scrum. Maafu can do that, and more.

“I consider myself the icebreaker on the squad,” he said. “I like to make it so everyone can open up to one another. Maybe I’m a big goofball, I don’t know, but I like to joke around and get people talking to each other. That was a big thing for us [in BC]. We stayed in dorms and we were able to talk to each other.”

Maafu has played with Tempe since 8th grade. Last year, due to low numbers, they combined with Scottsdale. This year, they combined with East Valley, but late in the season and thus weren’t able to play in the playoffs. It was a disappointment for Maafu, as he would have liked to showcase his skills there.

But HSAA Head Coach Salty Thompson, who lives nearby, knew of him anyway, and knew what he could bring to the team. 

“I am just so thankful,” said Maafu. “My dad played rugby with Salty, and I was really happy and thankful for that.”

Maafu knows the game, too, and was very specific about how the HSAA could do better. 

“Better organization in the lineouts would beneficial, and in the scrum if we dropped our knees and got lower that would be great,” he explained. “And then we need to realize when we have the other team all bunched in on the rucks we can dish it out and hit the corners, yeah?”

Yeah. So it’s not just a bundle of physical gifts -  Nafi Maafu is a smart rugby player who can analyze the game, and then make sure everyone is loose off the field.

Maybe that’s why he’s our Eagle Impact Rugby Academy Player of the Week.

 

See the video of Maafu's try here (if you don't see it, refresh the page).