London Irish loose forward Isaac Feaunati’s knee buckles in a tackle during the final match of the English season against Rotherham in 1998. PHOTO: Ken Brown
Isaac Feaunati could write a best-seller about his rugby journey if he wasn’t so busy passing on his vast rugby knowledge to the next generation of Wellington representative players.
The former Marist St Pats and Lions loose forward has been appointed as Wellington’s under 19 head coach for 2016.
Feaunati’s return to the representative fold comes 19 years after he played his last match for the Lions and off the back of an extensive playing and coaching career in Europe.
A two-time Jubilee Cup winner with MSP and the only player to win the Billy Wallace Trophy as Wellington’s club player of the year three times in a row, he went on to build an impressive playing CV as a professional.
It included 14 tests for Samoa as well as stints with London Irish, Leeds and Bath in the English Premiership.
Less well known is that the 42-year-old was the head of rugby at Bishop Vesey Grammar School in Birmingham for six years, director of rugby for the Greater Birmingham region, and head of the Worcester Warriors age grade programme after he hung up his boots.
Last year the father of four returned home to Wellington and in his first year as the director of rugby with the Old Boys University, helped the club win its first Jubilee Cup in 49 years.
Now he wants to help the under 19s achieve the same level of success on the national stage.
“On paper we always look good, but the main thing for me is that the boys selected for this team embrace the challenge and that is to win the national tournament,” he said when asked what his goals were for the team. “It’s a big tournament, it’s a very important tournament and we want players who are striving to win it, simple as that.”
On a wider scale, Feaunati wants to prepare the under 19s players for the next step in their career.
“I want to make sure all 25 or 26 players who are picked are Lions ready by the end of the tournament,” he said. “We don’t want them to be satisfied with just making the team, we want them to be aiming for higher honours the next season. For some guys it might just be a stop off in their career, but the type of players we are looking for are guys who have the desire to go on and play for the Lions.”
Feaunati did that 22 times between 1994 and 1997, spending a single season with the Crusaders in 1997 before he headed off shore.
His international career included playing for Samoa against the All Blacks and being part of the 1999 World Cup.
And were some significant highlights off the field too with a high profile acting role when he played Jonah Lomu in the Hollywood movie Invictus filming alongside the movie’s stars Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman in South Africa for nine weeks in 2009.
Feaunati also hit the headlines in 1998 when he was the main subject of a photo that was voted as one of the top three Sports Illustrated sports shots of that year.
The image shows the then London Irish No 8 bending his knee backward in a tackle that left him with the first major injury of his career.
The photo attracted major media attention as well as years of interest from knee surgeons keen to understand how he had recovered so well when he resumed his playing career a year later.