The crowd erupted as both teams walked onto the field.  The home team lined up while the visitors from the South Sea Islands got into formation for their war dance, a common ritual among the region which has become a rugby tradition.  As the opposing team’s captain shouted in his native tongue to commence the dance the crowd hushed.  The home team stared intensely at their opponents, ready to meet the challenge head on.  Among the lineup was Auro, who would be starting for the first time.  An islander-American, he watched his “cousins” as they began their dance.  At that moment Auro felt a burst of pride, not only of his heritage but of everything he went through to get to this point.  As their opponents started their dance Auro thought back to just a few years ago when his journey to rugby began.

  3 months after high school when most young Americans were settling down in a university dorm or a new apartment, Auro put his bags down on a bench in an open house thousands of miles away from home at a college in the South Pacific.  With no walls, the “house” was a rectangular structure held up by wooden beams.  Tightly weaved curtains and tarps for the rain were tied with coconut chords and rolled up into the thatched roof which was covered by a tin sheet.  Auro was given a mat to sleep on and after choosing a spot in the corner of the house he was finally settled.  The sun would set soon and tomorrow his new life would begin.

  Auro slept so well that night he forgot where he was.  He was awakened by a crude sounding bell that could’ve been heard throughout half the island.  It was 5am and suddenly a loud thud hit the roof and something rolled down and fell to the ground outside.  It looked like a football but bigger.  It was the first rugby ball Auro had ever seen.  Students scrambled to get ready and within minutes they were all on the nearby field stretching and passing several of the balls around.  Auro saw rugby only once on National Geographic but now he was experiencing it firsthand, and it would change his life forever.

  Over the next four years Auro excelled in his studies and at rugby, playing for his school’s 15s and 7s teams.  Though he wasn’t the fastest or knew how to do the fancy off-loads like many of his peers he was great at defense, winning the ball at the ruck, and finding gaps to burst through.  Auro sharpened his game by playing against the best teams in the nation and by watching the best teams in the world.  When he finally returned home one of the first things he did was look up his local rugby club.  There were quite a few, but he picked the most prestigious one and trained hard and played his best when he had the opportunity until he eventually earned a regular starting spot.

  Auro snapped back to the present as his teammates began to walk forward.  Together they marched toward the visitors and stopped just a few feet away, responding to the challenge before them.  The crowd roared and the visiting team concluded their war dance vigorously, ending with their snarled faces just inches away from the home team.  Tensions mounted as both teams stared each-other down until they finally broke away.  The visitors kicked off and the ball soared high into the night sky.  Auro’s rugby career at home had begun.

 

Philip Leasau