The man carrying the hopes of the nation into the final Olympic Sevens Rugby Qualifying tournament in Monaco next week is not just a rugby player.
As the Captain of the Manu Samoa Sevens team, Falemiga Selesele, is now a High Chief, having been bestowed the honour of the Tole’afoa title from his village of Vaega, Satupaitea, last week.
After years of serving Samoa quietly, the unexpected ceremony was icing on the cake for Selesele whose courage and drive helped Samoa hoist the Paris Sevens trophy, snaring an unlikely victory from Fiji’s grasps at Stade de France.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this,” Tole’afoa Falemiga told the Weekend Observer, prior to the team’s departure for a one-week camp in Brisbane.
“It was a very pleasant surprise. Coming back from Paris and London, I went to visit my family at Satupa’itea before leaving for Monaco when I was told about it.”
Having grown up as a boy in the village, the honour means a lot to the veteran. It means the next time he is in Satupaitea when the Village Council meets, he will no longer have to serve with the village’s untitled men.
He instead will now have a seat in the house of chiefs were village laws and plans are made.
“I am honoured. I thank my family and my village for their support. I didn’t expect this but they obviously saw it fitting to bestow this honour so I will take it with all humility and try my best to fulfill my role as a matai as well as to make Samoa proud.”
What made the surprise even more memorable according to the Skipper was that his village had waited for his arrival at the Salelologa Wharf and they whisked him away to the bestowal and a welcome home party.
“I can only be grateful.
“I saw that everything was well planned. There was the welcoming at the Salelologa Wharf when I arrived and the homecoming party at the village was all very emotional. The past few weeks have probably been the best in my life. I will cherish them.”
Asked for his thoughts on Monaco, Tole’afoa said he knows they have a job to do. He admitted that their form at the London Sevens was unacceptable and they have to lift one last time for a tilt at the Rio Olympics.
“It’s all about team work and believing in each other,” he said.
“We have a young team and we have been building quite nicely up until this point. This tournament in Monaco means a lot to us, we’ve spoken about it, we know how important it is for us to win and we have prepared ourselves as best as we can for it.
“All that’s left now is for us to execute the plan on the field. We ask the country for their prayers and their support.”
Toleafoa Falemiga is the son of Selesele and Metotisi Pene and the youngest of five brothers and one sister.
His journey as a rugby player started from Moata’a Team where he got the chance to play for the under 19 when he was selected for the squad in 2007.
And because of his hard work and believing in God, he was chosen for the Manu Samoa Sevens team in 2011.
The chiefly honour caps off a whirlwind year for Tole’afoa, who has had to overcome tremendous odds to earn the respect of some of his harshest critics – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.
When Englishman Damian McGrath took over the coaching role, he did not appoint Selesele as captain. The team chose him.
“They obviously saw that Falemiga was their leader and having displayed top leadership qualities over the years on and off the field, they picked him,” McGrath said.