Living the Dream

Ashley Stanley
Written by
Ashley Stanley

Author short introduction. Three to five lines of brief description.

Tafito Lafaele has moved around a lot positionally since taking up rugby but has found a home for herself in the Black Ferns.  Ashley Stanely with the story.

Tafito Lafaele of the Black Ferns charges forward during the 2022 Pacific Four Series match between Canada and New Zealand Black Ferns at The Trusts Arena on June 12, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Tafito Lafaele of the Black Ferns charges forward during the 2022 Pacific Four Series match between Canada and New Zealand Black Ferns at The Trusts Arena on June 12, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

When Tafito Lafaele finished high school three years ago, she was in a lull.

It was a contrast to her endless schedule of multiple sports achievements at Botany Downs Secondary College in 2018 and being crowned ‘Personality of the Year’ at their annual sports awards.  

“I was a bit lost after high school. There was uni but it wasn't for me,” says Lafaele, who was also the North Island schools shot put champion at the time. “I guess I started playing footy to get into shape because after school things just went a little sideways.”

When Lafaele decided to try her hand at rugby, she went down to her local club, Papatoetoe, and they slipped her in as their last line of defence.  

“They put me at fullback. I was 110kg at fullback,” recalls the now 21-year-old Black Fern. “But I switched positions as soon as I made the Auckland Storm team (in 2019).  

“Anna Richards wanted me to change into a lock-loose forward so from there I started playing six.” Lafaele would eventually move from Papatoetoe to College Rifles and play lock, debut for Auckland at No. 8, switch to blindside for the Storm in 2021 then move to openside flanker this season.  

The ability to move positions and learn new skills quickly has paid off with the talented loose forward debuting for the Black Ferns against Australia in the recent Pacific 4 series.

“Man, just thinking about the debut right now is giving me butterflies,” Lafaele says. “I was really excited and nervous when I got told I was gonna come off the bench. But I was probably more excited and really keen to just get on the pitch and play. Especially with my mates Ru (Ruahei Demant) and Maia (Roos).”

A strong 30-odd support squad made the drive down from Auckland to Tauranga in torrential rain to watch Lafaele pull on the black jersey for the first time.  

“It was really cool to debut in front of my family,” says Lafaele, who is the youngest of five children. “Some of the girls who have been there for a long time didn't get the chance to do that so I’m quite lucky.”

The Pacific 4 series was the first international competition for the Black Ferns following the change in coaching staff, where Wayne Smith has taken over alongside assistants Whitney Hansen and Wes Clarke.  

“I will never forget this tour.  Just the connections that I made with everybody,” says Lafaele. “With Smithy and everything that he's trying to input with the team. He's got this whole plan and slowly you can see it unfolding, it's so exciting to be a part of.”

Continue this story in our Aug/Sep  issue.

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Ashley Stanley
Written by
Ashley Stanley

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