Former Toa Samoa star Ben Te’o invited to North Korea

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Ben Te’o during his Toa Samoa days.

Ben Te’o during his Toa Samoa days.

As Toa Samoa prepares for one of their biggest games in the Rugby League World Cup tonight, a former member of the team, Ben Te’o, is making headlines on the other side of the world for a different reason.

Te’o, who represented Samoa during a previous Rugby League World Cup, has been invited to visit North Korea, according to a report by Chris Foy of the Daily Mail.

Since his last outing for Samoa, Te’o switched codes to Rugby Union and is now representing England. Which is where the story takes place.

This is what Chris Foy wrote for the Daily Mail:

The invitation certainly looked official and it didn't take Kiwi-born Ben Te'o and England star Jonny May long to realise that this was serious - and worrying. They were being asked to visit North Korea.

Events had escalated rapidly. May, the prolific Leicester wing and his England team-mate, Ben Te'o, had spoken last season about their new-found fascination with the isolated Asian state. But what had started as a joke about "fixing the situation" stopped being funny for May the moment he realised the North Korean authorities were keen to make his acquaintance, the MailOnline reported.

"I got back to Gloucester and there was this letter waiting for me with a wax stamp on it, the full works, saying 'private, confidential'," he said. "It was a letter from the North Korean embassy. I swear on my life.

"It said, 'Hi Jonny. We've seen that you and Ben Te'o are interested in our country and we'd love to arrange a trip up to the embassy for you, to meet all our president's dignitaries, then we can organise a VIP tour to North Korea'.

"I sent the picture to Ben saying, 'What the hell is going on? Is this a wind-up?'. He said, 'No, I've had one too, they're watching us!'. That's what's scary, they do watch out like that, they have a Google alert. When anyone is talking about North Korea, it will pop up.

"I haven't been to the embassy. I'm actually worried about it. I didn't write back. I asked Eddie Jones about it, but we haven't responded to them. It is probably quite a big honour to be invited, but I'm not going to North Korea!"

The tale reinforces the sense that May, 27, is a unique character. As he says himself: "I am happy being different."

And he started early. Long before she was having to worry about her son flying off to Pyongyang, his mother helped Ed Sheeran learn to play the guitar.

May and Sheeran spent time together as children, occasionally cross paths as adults and help each other's families out with tickets from time to time. "When we were younger, we'd be outside playing football but even then, he was so into his music," said May.

'I've been to a few concerts, seen him and said hello. The best thing was when my mum's best friend got married, me and Ed were ushers at the wedding. Ed played and sang in front of 50 of us. That was pretty cool.'

May has delivered many impressive performances of his own lately after a period of upheaval towards the end of the summer. A hasty move to the East Midlands led to comparisons with Brazilian footballer Neymar, who had forced through a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

"It was Danny Care who called me May-mar," he said. "It was mad, really. I put in a transfer request on the Friday, got married on the Saturday, went to the Seychelles for my honeymoon, got back two weeks later on the Friday, signed for Leicester, then went to England camp on the Saturday.

"On the Monday, we had to meet up at Leicester and get a bus to Cardiff for a week's training camp, then I came back and lived with George Ford for three weeks, before moving into my own place. It's been a whirlwind, madness."

Ford was not overjoyed by his temporary lodger. The England fly-half had issues with a new rug being wrecked by an accident involving plum sauce - and cleanliness in general.

"He's got major OCD," said May. "George is a clean freak. He's even got a little Hoover in his car."

Despite his status as an established Test player, May spends his time among the rookies in what is known as 'The Dungeon' and refutes claims that he has sought comparison with another local sporting hero on account of a scoring streak which has yielded 10 tries in nine games.

"Ben Youngs called me Jamie Vardy, but he made that up!" said May. "I've never said anything like that! For a start, I still change in the junior changing room but I'm quite happy where I am."

Despite a reputation as the class clown, May emphasises that he is a dedicated professional and takes exception to dated perceptions about the way he plays. "People say, 'He's just a fast guy who runs round like he doesn't know what he's doing'," he said.

"Maybe that was me when I came on the scene at Gloucester, but I've worked hard and I do know what I'm doing, I'm not just a clueless fast guy! At the same time, I don't want to take away the unpredictability that sets me apart."

On Saturday, after recovering from a hamstring strain, he will feature in England's clash with Australia at Twickenham. Eddie Jones is a confirmed fan but he certainly doesn't go easy on him. "The pressure he puts on you ... you're either going to sink or swim really," said May.

'I've won 27 caps, played some good games for England and scored some good tries, but I feel there is some unfinished business. I want to be first choice for England. I was disappointed to lose my spot in the Six Nations and after that, there was no way I could expect to go on the Lions tour.

"But it hurts when three other guys (England wings) go and you don't, especially because I knew that there have been times when I've been starting over them.

"That hurt me and has definitely given me more drive. I'm hungrier than ever."

© Samoa Observer 2016

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