The United States Rugby Foundation, teaming up with the Golden Eagles, recently provided USA U20 player, Nafi Maafu, (pictured left, winning lineout ball in a recent USA U20 match against Canada at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA) with a great opportunity to further his skills with a six-month rugby adventure to New Zealand.
Nafi is currently two-thirds of his way through the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand's (IRANZ) High Performance Course in Palmerston North. Upon completion of the course, Nafi will then live and train in Wellington with the Wellington Rugby Club.
If the first two weeks at IRANZ is any indication of his potential, this trip could be a real life changer for the young second row/backrow player. IRANZ CEO and former New Zealand All Blacks great, Murray Mexted, had this to say about the promising player.
"Nafi is like the Lost Afternoon Luncheon: full of unknown promise getting better every minute. He scored a try from 25 metres, has very good leg explosion, good work rate and desire, but most of all he appears to be a good learner."
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Nafi, a 2016 and 2017 High School All-American, is working hard but appears to be relishing the experience.
"Training is so tough. We practice three times a day for six days out of the week but I've gotten really good advice and tips from some of New Zealand's legends and coaches like Chris Jack, Wayne Smith, Mike Cron, Rodney So'oialo and TJ Perenara. I still can't believe I've only been here for two weeks and I've already gained so much knowledge about the game and improved my skill sets by so much. It's unreal!! We've also just had a game against a local club team called Manawatu and we beat them, but we had a really slow start. I managed to scored our/my first try and made some key plays in the game but I'm not done yet. We have another game this Thursday and I'm so excited!!"
This opportunity came out of the blue and had to be acted on quickly. Funding came quickly through the joint efforts by the Golden Eagles and the U.S. Rugby Foundation. Once Nafi was identified as the player who would most benefit by the experience and determined he was available and ready for this trip of a lifetime, a visa had to be secured in short order. Through friends at the New Zealand Embassy, a visa was secured and Nafi was off to New Zealand the very next day.
USA U20s Head Coach, JD Stephenson, is the one who recommended Nafi, and he couldn't be prouder.
"The opportunity for Nafi to be in a daily training environment with world class coaching, facilities and resources is the opportunity of a lifetime for a young footballer both on and off the pitch. Not only will Nafi come back as a better footballer, but he we also come back as a more cultured and worldly young man. I'm extremely impressed with how he has handled himself in his first two weeks in New Zealand."
This is the first time that the U.S. Rugby Foundation and the Golden Eagles have partnered on a project but USRF Executive Director, Brian Vizard, hopes it's the first of many joint ventures.
"We were excited about working with the Golden Eagles to get Nafi down to New Zealand. Things had to come together quickly and both sides moved at top speed to get what had to be done, done. Both groups want to improve the level of skills of our country's most promising players and I hope we join forces on many similar projects in the future."