Edinburgh's Sasa Tofilau goes from meat packer to pro rugby

Samoan centre Sasa Tofilau came to Scotland to tick it off his 'bucket list' on a short working holiday with a bit of rugby on the side but has ended up with a professional contract.

Edinburgh's Sasa Tofilau in action against Newcastle in last week's pre-season match. Picture:  Ross Parker/SNS
Edinburgh's Sasa Tofilau in action against Newcastle in last week's pre-season match. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

The 22-year-old answered a call from compatriot Quintan Sanft to come and play for Kirkcaldy – making his debut against Preston Lodge less than 24 hours after arriving from Australia – and found a job cutting and packing meat at Scotland’s largest buffalo farm and butchery.

Now he is hoping to add some beef to the Edinburgh midfield and force his way into the mix for Saturday evening’s Guinness Pro12 opener against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.

“I get asked this every day,” said Tofilau about how a former Australia Under-20 player and member of Waikato Chiefs’ development squad ended up playing in the third tier of Scottish club rugby. “It is just fate I guess. The rugby wasn’t the best level and people may question my ability and ask how can a Kirkcaldy boy pull on an Edinburgh jersey now?

“But through fate and my hard work I got the chance to play for Edinburgh.”

Tofilau’s presence at Beveridge Park caught the attention of BT Murrayfield and he was invited to play in a trial match against Scotland Under-20s and to train with Edinburgh.

He was only on a six-month tourist visa but, with some assistance from Scottish Rugby, he went home and got it extended then played his part in Edinburgh’s win at the Melrose Sevens, scoring in the final. “I was really grateful that [coach] Roddy Grant gave me the opportunity to prove myself at Melrose Sevens. That was a stepping stone to where I am today,” he said.

He is also grateful to Kirkcaldy and has forged a link with the Fife club and town which he intends to maintain.

“I worked at the buffalo farm packing and cutting meat, woke up every morning at 5am and finished at 6pm. Changed days now. I still go back to see the Kirkcaldy boys and actually ran water for them at a game a couple of Saturdays ago.

“I made a lot of friends at Kirkcaldy. A lot came to watch me [in last Friday’s pre-season friendly] against Newcastle. I made them proud and hopefully put Kirkcaldy back on the map. The standard of the rugby in National 2 is brutal. There is not much structure to it because of the level they play. I call it jungle rugby because it is all over the place.

“But I can’t stop saying thank you to everybody at Kirkcaldy because now I wake up everyday living the dream.”

The move from Fife to Edinburgh may be short in distance but huge in terms of standard. However, Tofilau has been a man on the move from a young age.

Raised by a single mother in a family of four, with an older brother who was a talented rugby player, they moved to Auckland before Tofilau earned a scholarship to Brisbane, where he ended up playing age grade rugby league for Brisbane Broncos and Australia. He was lured back to New Zealand and rugby union with Waikato but went on to wear the gold and green of Australia again, this time in the Under-20 World Cup.

Tofilau says he is loving life at Edinburgh. “It has been awesome. We have good coaches in Alan Solomons, Duncan Hodge and Stevie Scott. They let me play my own game and I have fitted into the squad.

“There is a good culture here and I can’t wait to get going this weekend. My role is to crash the ball and take the pressure off [stand-off] Duncan Weir. Punch forward and get an offload when I can.”

Edinburgh announced yesterday that stand-off Jason Tovey is expected to be sidelined for around eight weeks with a wrist injury.

The Welshman sustained the injury in training last week, with a scan at Spire Murrayfield Hospital revealing a small fracture, however at this stage it is thought that surgery will not be required.