Written by Nick Heath for Rugby World Cup News Service
OKINAWA, 24 Sep – USA hooker Joe Taufete’e began his sporting life with dreams of American football stardom – until a knee injury ruined his hopes of playing with the San Francisco 49ers.
Taufete’e, pictured above, is set to play in his second Rugby World Cup and earn his 24th cap for the USA at Rugby World Cup 2019.
His former role as a gridiron long snapper required him to pass or ‘snap’ the ball across very short distances but at very high speed. It is a specialized role used for field goals or punts.
“It has to be fast and quick because the defense is rushing from the other side. That was how I got into throwing. If we didn’t complete the first down, we’d have to snap it for almost ten yards. That was how I transitioned to be a thrower in rugby as a hooker.”
At 22 and uncapped, he received a shock call-up to the USA squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Then in 2016, following a stint with the San Diego Breakers, he was signed by USA head coach Gary Gold in his former role as Worcester Warriors boss.
Taufete’e, who was born in American Samoa and raised in California, will carry the name of his late father-in-law in his heart when he steps out to face England at the Kobe Misaki Stadium on Thursday.
His wife Noeleen and her family played a key role in introducing him to rugby where he could put his football expertise to good use.
Taufete’e’s rugby career has been inspired and guided by his later father-in-law, the man he knew as Papa Siolo, who died earlier this year. His name is tattooed on Taufete’e’s left forearm.
He learned the devastating news at the end of his Premiership season with Worcester Warriors. “It just broke me to hear that news,” he said. “To go back home at the end of the season, it was a dark spot. Now coming into this competition, I’m starting to feel a little more at ease but through that time it was tough.”
Taufete’e married Noeleen four years ago but has known her and her late father for nine years.
“He’d always supported me through my rugby and I knew that every time I’d come home from a tour, he’d always tell me what I did and what I did wrong. He was like my own father, telling me that he’s watched my games. To come home and feel that from my father-in-law alone was just amazing.
“He’s in my thoughts. Especially in this competition now, he’ll be in my heart and my head.”