One in a million - Henry Taefu's journey to the Rugby World Cup
Henry Taefu’s Rugby World Cup debut on Tuesday night also marked six years exactly since he got out of hospital having beaten a life-threatening tumour.
The 26-year-old Manu Samoa centre had a rare condition – which afflicts one in a million people – called pheochromocytoma; a tumour in his adrenal gland which was the size of an orange.
“Luckily for me I found it pretty early,” said Taefu, who is from the villages of Samatau and Siufaga Falelatai.
“We all come from different journeys in life, and I’m just fortunate that I’m here and fully fit.”
The tumour was causing his body to produce too much adrenalin whenever he exercised, which proved a barrier during his early professional rugby career.
“For me it was bad because every time I played and my heart rate went up, I’d get this surge of adrenaline and pass out,” Taefu said.
He said very little is known about pheochromocytoma, but the tumour turns cancerous in one in two cases:
“I could’ve played a game of rugby and had a heart attack or something, you just never know.”
The tumour was discovered during a shoulder reconstruction surgery Taefu needed following playing for Australia at the Under-20 World Championships (alongside fellow Manu World Cup teammates Senio Toleafoa and Ulupano Seuteni).
Thanks to that bit of good fortune, his career kicked on and Taefu had two seasons with the Queensland Reds before earning his first Manu cap in 2017.
Just a few years ago he never would’ve imagined himself at a Rugby World Cup, but on Tuesday night he started in Samoa’s opening game against Russia in Kumagaya.
Taefu was moved to tears during the national anthem:
“Siva kau I’m alright, but every time the anthem plays I can’t hold the emotions in, it still gets me.”
But the midfielder thinks getting a little worked up is a good thing.
“I think nerves and being emotional, I think it’s good when it comes to rugby, you just can’t let it take you off your game,” Taefu said.
He said it’s just a matter of channel those emotions positively, and staying level-headed:
“Emotion is a good thing, being nervous is a good thing, but you just can’t let that control you and turn into anger and frustration.”
Taefu said he wasn’t expecting to play in front of such a big crowd (over 22,000) against Russia, nor for them to be so loud.
“When we ran out for that warmup, it was a good feeling,” he said.
“I’ve played in some big stadiums, but I think that was one of the best atmospheres.”
Taefu said they felt like the home team:
“You could sort of see patches of blue, and I think everyone was sort of cheering for us, people from Iwaki and I think a few from Yamagata.”
Taefu, who left Samoa as a 9-year-old and grew up mostly in Brisbane, Australia, said the Manu are well aware of their fans back home and all around the world as well.
“Thank you so much for all the support, we definitely feel it and hopefully it carries us through this World Cup,” he said.