Ex-All Black makes Samoan cricket debut at Pacific Games

Former rugby player with Manu Samoa and the All Blacks, Aiolupotea Ofisa Tonu’u, has played his first international game as a member of the Samoan cricket team.

He played during a rain-delayed first competition day of the Samoa 2019 XVI Pacific Games, on the water-logged Cricket Oval, Faleata Sports Complex.

But the rain did not dampen his excitement, having wanted to play for Samoa for years, Aiolupotea said: “This is huge for me.”

Aged 49 and father to seven children, he said he would like to continue “as long as I can contribute to the team".

Samoan coach Tim Carter said: “The team had lacked a strong wicket keeper and (Aiolupotea) Ofisa has really strengthened the team by filling this essential role.”

Holder of the matai title in his mother’s village of Fasito’o uta, Aiolupotea until recently could not meet the qualifying requirements of 100 consecutive days in Samoa due to his business commitments in New Zealand.

As he holds a Samoan passport, the recent rule changes have meant he does now qualify to compete, opening the way for the realisation of this long held dream - to play cricket for Samoa.

Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, he excelled in and loved both cricket and rugby.

He played his first senior cricket game at the age of 14. Finally the time came to choose a career in one or the other. “My heart was divided,” Aiolupotea said. 

While he chose the rugby route, cricket remained a sporting love for Aiolupotea, who has been playing in premier league cricket teams in New Zealand.

It was on his outstanding performance as wicket keeper at a recent charity cricket match (between a team of retired All Blacks versus a team of retired New Zealand international cricket players Black Caps) that he was selected for the Samoan team.

He recalls the triumph of taking a sharp stump in that match, stumping the ex-wicket keeper of the Black Caps.

He enjoys coaching and mentoring younger players and feels his input and experience as a high performance athlete is a something his long career in both sports allows him to offer to the Samoan team.

He played for Manu Samoa in what many consider its golden years in the nineties when they were unbeatable in Samoa.

It was after the 1993 test match in Samoa against the All Blacks, that he was offered the possibility of joining them.

Aiolupotea said: “It was a difficult decision as Samoa was on such a high at that time.”

He consulted his father, who is from Fugalei, and determined that, if he wanted to be the best rugby player he could be, playing with the All Blacks would offer that opportunity for further development.

He went on to achieve at a very high level in his chosen sport, playing with the All Blacks 1996 to 1998, in the Super 10 Rugby competition, and then with English and Welsh teams. He played his last professional game in 2005 after winning three championships with Wellington and six with Auckland.


Photo credit: Trina Edwards/Pacific Games News Service Caption: Aiolupotea Ofisa Tonu’u dons cricket gear for his Samoa debut.