So’oialo: Life after All Blacks
There’s no rest for the weary. Not even for former All Black, Rodney So’oialo, who is in Samoa to promote the development of ripper rugby.
Since his return from club rugby in Japan four years ago, So’oialo slipped right into the role of coaching and development of New Zealand rugby, including taking on a role as an ambassador for ripper rugby.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, So’oialo said it’s nice to be away from the spotlight and pressures of living life as an All Blacks.
But that in terms of pace, it hasn’t changed much.
“It’s nice, but I don’t know about ‘going at your own pace’,” So’oialo smiled.
“I think I work harder now as a coach than I did in the All Blacks. Life after the All Blacks is actually full on but in other ways like pursuing a coaching career which has been a real passion of mine.
“Your hours are much longer than a player. I’ve got so much respect for coaches especially at the professional area where there are sleepless nights and if I didn’t enjoy what I do, I wouldn’t be where I am, I enjoy coaching.”
Looking back on his journey, playing for the best rugby team in the world has its perks as well as its challenges, particularly when it comes to balancing your professional role as a sports ambassador for your country with your personal beliefs.
Case in point with the latest controversy surrounding Israel Folau’s social media posts which follows the trend of many professional sports players boldly wading into current political and social debates online.
Having stayed relatively scandal free in his career, So’oialo admits it’s not an easy job to balance those two worlds, but that he respects Folau for standing up to all the criticism and backlash that ensued his social media comments.
“To be honest, when you sign up to participate at a certain job, there are requirements in there that do restrict you, so if you’re an outspoken person and you’re going to voice a lot of stuff, well I think maybe you need to have a look at it,” he said.
“However, I believe that if you’re strong in your beliefs and your faith then I think you should stand up for what you believe in.
“Yeah it’s a tough one, there’s a fine line because you have to respect other people as well.
“On the subject of Israel Folau, you know I’m a Christian as well, but I’m just really mindful that as a Christian, my comments might hurt other people. Yeah that’s a real tough one, but I’m just really proud that Israel knows who he is and he is strong in his faith.”
Another issue that So’oialo has mixed feelings about is the rigid International Rugby Board (I.R.B.) rules, which mean players who have played for one country have to stand down from international rugby for three years before they can play for another.
“That’s another thing, it’s not just New Zealand and Samoa, it’s a rule for everyone. I have mixed feelings about it because there’s some players that have only played a handful of games for one country and then aren’t eligible to play for another country.
“I’m not sure of the whole legal side to it and it’ll be quite nice to play for another country, if you’ve only played a certain amount of games. So I think maybe they need to have a look at it.”
These days So’oialo is a free agent and finds it immensely satisfying to be involved in coaching and developing rugby at a grass roots level in Wellington. Being an ambassador for quick rip rugby is the icing on the cake and he is enjoying his time giving back to his birth country.
“To be able to give back and come back to Samoa and deliver a programme which I totally believe in especially with healthier living and trying to encourage the boys and girls to participate in quick rip which is very similar to the rugby 7s, just without the contact.
“I believe there are similarities between the actual rugby game and quick rip, it gets them out there, makes it more active. The kids are actually enjoying it and there have been a lot of kids that have wanted to participate in it.
“Since I haven’t been in the All Blacks, I try to give back as much as I can. I just remember my dad saying that we don’t ever forget that the relationship with Jesus is the key to your life and I try to instill the same message with my children where we strongly believe that this is the way for us and it helps make us better people.”
The former All Blacks and Hurricanes player hopes that he will have the opportunity to return to Samoa and help out as much as he can.
Asked what his advice would be to Samoans trying to develop any type of sport on the island, he said: “Engage people as much as you can, be proactive instead of waiting for things to happen. You can’t wait for things to happen, you have to get out there and actually do it.
“If you want changes, the change must come from yourself first, look at yourself before you start to push things through. I think if we can all contribute in some small way, we will all be better off for it.”