Club: Northampton Saints
International Caps/Points: 12/0 (3 caps for Pacific Islanders, 9 for Tonga)
At 6’3″, and weighing in at 21 stones, Soane Tonga’uiha is a straight up beast.
The giant Northampton prop was born in Tonga, but brought up in New Zealand. He tried, without success, to grab himself a Super 14 contract, so he upped sticks and moved to play for Bedford Blues before he got himself a big move to Northampton at the start of the 06/07 season. It took him a couple of seasons, but eventually he grabbed the loosehead position from the legendary Tom Smith, who took the opportunity to make his move towards coaching. He hasn’t looked back since.
At the Saints Tonga’uiha has gone from strength to strength, and not only cemented his place in the side, but also in the hearts of Northampton fans. He was due to leave and move to Saracens at the end of last season, but a last minute change of heart saw him sign another 3 year deal at Northampton. You can see why the fans at Franklin’s Gardens hail him as a hero, where he’s affectionately known as “Tiny”.
The fact is fact, as you might have guessed, Soane Tonga’uiha is anything but tiny. This gigantic man has the ability to change the game completely by himself. If the old adage that your front 5 determine whether you win or lose the game, then Tonga’uiha is definitely a man you’d want in your front 5. His sheer size and physicality, combined with his scrummaging ability and his athleticism for a big man can cause problems for any opposition tighthead in the world, and he can dominate in the scrum and the loose, which often turns games around as he demonstrated for Northampton against Perpignan in last year’s heineken Cup semi-final. He simply bulldozered his way through the French Top14 team. It was awe inspiring, and terrifying, to watch. His sheer hugeness is undoubtedly a massive threat going forward. Every team could use a giant like Tonga’uiha running full pelt onto a crash ball off the side of a ruck. That’s the kind of nightmare that has number 10’s waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night crying for their Mummy, which, no doubt, Nicolas Laharrague still does regularly following the aforementioned 23-7 drubbing at the hands of Tonga’uiha and co.
Couple these things with the fact that Tonga’uiha won the Under-19 World Cup in 2001, and the Under-21 World Cup in 2003 with New Zealand, and you begin to see how highly accomplished a prop this guy really is. His All Black days are long behind him now, opting to play instead, for the land of his birth. He tweeted last Wednesday “I’m a Proud Tongan right now. Bring on Friday.”
Despite the end result of that match on Friday, Tonga’s gain is most definitely the All Blacks’ loss. Graham Henry would definitely be able to use a loosehead like Tonga’uiha in the side, and his front row would be stronger for having him. Unfortunately I’m not convinced that Tonga will get far at all in this World Cup, and as a result Tonga’uiha won’t get the recognition he deserves.
That’s one of the problems of the professional era though, great players with smaller nations who are miles behind in kit, resources, facilities, coaching staff, sponsorship, finance, and logistics, like Tonga (whose squad have all been sharing one room during their World Cup build up… You wouldn’t get that with many international teams) tend to fall through the cracks where the rugby press is concerned. So while you may not hear Lawrence Dallaglio, Francois Pienaar and chums waxing lyrical about Tonga’uiha on ITV over the next few weeks (unless Tonga majorly pull it out of the bag), this man mountain is most definitely Tonga’s “One to Watch”. A better loosehead prop in this tournament, I would humbly suggest, you will struggle to find.