Above: Asafo Aumua in action for the Avalon Wolves against Poneke a few weeks ago. Photo by Hugh Pretorius.
“It’s all hype. I haven’t heard from the All Black selectors. I don’t like cameras and microphones. I’m just trying to be the best player I can be,” the softly spoken Asafo Aumua asserts when asked to address speculation he might be an apprentice on the All Blacks end of season tour.
The 20-year old hooker has made a rapid ascent into National consciousness after some damaging performances for the world champion New Zealand Under-20’s in 2017 and Wellington Lions in 2016.
In June in the final of the IRB Junior World Championships in Georgia, Aumua scored three tries in the record 64-17 thumping of England. Aumua was surprised by England’s lack of physicality, but praised the Kiwi “brotherhood.”
“England weren’t as tough as I thought they would be. They didn’t front early and we got on top. I think the difference between last year (New Zealand was fifth) and this year was the brotherhood. There were no groups in this team.”
What does Aumua mean by groups?
“Last year the Super Rugby boys hung out with the Super Rugby boys. The NPC boys stayed with the NPC boys. It wasn’t a very together group,” Aumua explains.
New Zealand lacked the collective power to defend rolling mauls early in the tournament, conceding five tries in their first two games from that manoeuvre. How did New Zealand address this potential Achilles heel?
“It wasn’t something we really thought about, but when Scotland and Italy kept doing it we had to show some mongrel in our remaining matches,” Aumua responds.
The French semi-final presented New Zealand with their toughest challenge. Aumua scored a try in the 39-26 win.
“The French were physical and dirty. I got eye gouged. I didn’t see who did it, but I wasn’t going to take that.” Aumua moaned.
Aumua might have had reason to complain during the NPC last year. Despite being the Lions leading try scorer with six, he only started two matches. In his run-on debut he scored three tries in the 29-21 triumph over Northland.
Aumua was the first hooker from Wellington and just the fourth in Division I history after Hika Reid, Jesse Ranui and Francis Smith to score a hat-trick in an NPC match.
Aumua joined Brian McGrattan (v North Auckland, 1984) and Jeremy Thrush (v Southland, 2015) as the only Wellington tight forwards to score a hat-trick in an NPC match.
“I was in the right place at the right time. All I had to do was fall over the line. It was the good work of the boys that set up those tries,” Aumua humbly recalls.
St. Patrick’s College, Silverstream was the right place for Aumua. He spent three memorable years in the First XV, earning selection for the New Zealand Secondary Schools who trounced Australia 32-8 in 2015, their biggest win in 20 years.
“We didn’t win anything. We lost three finals by three points, but I enjoyed the brotherhood,” Aumua reflects.
Aumua is being slightly harsh. Silverstream went through the round robin of the WelTec Premiership unbeaten for two years and accounted for strong schools like Gisborne BHS, Palmerston North BHS, St. Bede’s College and New Plymouth BHS.
“My favourite game was against Wellington College in 2013. I was in Year 11 and came on at halftime marking Leni Apisai. We won 25-11 and Nelson Asofa-Solomona got sin binned.”Aumua revealed.
Aumua helped Silverstream win two Wellington Secondary Schools Sevens titles and in 2015 scored four tries in the Marist Sevens final after being heckled following a yellow card.
“I got player of the tournament at the Marist Sevens and won a trip to Samoa. It was only the second time I have been back to Samoa which is my homeland. It was a good social trip,” Aumua chuckles.
Former coach and British and Irish Lions international Rob Ackerman waxed lyrical when asked about Aumua.
“This is a huge season for Asafo because he will be a marked man now, but he will be up to the challenge. Surrender is a word that doesn’t exist in his vocabulary. One day in pre-season training he pushed himself so much that he was physically sick time and time again, but he refused to give-up. He would be sick a lot at training actually.”
“Another time Asafo was injured and filming a game up in Palmerston North. He was boasting about how many pies he could eat in one day! He claimed his record was 16 pies and then said he plans to beat it one day. He probably will because he is a feisty competitor and a great young fella who gives everything and some.”
Former New Zealand Sevens mentor Scott Waldrom attended St. Pats Silverstream and has coached at Asafo’s club Avalon where older brother Sefo Aumua has been a regular Premier selection. Was there any prospect of Aumua being picked for the National sevens team?
“I was offered a chance to play sevens, but I had to commit to fifteens. It would have been nice to play sevens, but I am looking forward to the Wellington Lions season.” Aumua replies.
Aumua’s prospects of playing for the Lions were nearly derailed six weeks ago when he injured his shoulder in a club match against Poneke. Aumua had scored two tries.
“It happened in the last tackle. I drove in with the shoulder and it hurt. It’s all right now," he insists.
Aumua grew up in Naenae across the road from Lions teammate Alex Fidow. Asafo’s younger brother Chris Aumua holds the record for most tries in a Land Rover First XV match. He scored five against St. Pats Town last year.
Asafo was working at the Rata Street after school care centre. He is an is adored presence.
“I haven’t really left, but I haven’t been there for a while. Before the 20's final the kids sent me a video which was awesome. It nearly made me cry. I am grateful for everything mum and dad have done for me. I think they gave me taro instead of baby powder growing up,” Aumua concludes with a rare, but infectious smile.
The Wellington Lions travel to Palmerston North to take on Manawatu in their first game of the NPC on Sunday.