by Aeau Chris Hazelman on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 1:24pm ·

I grew up in Lotopa as we lived in a house where Sabrina’s Lodge is today. And so every afternoon was spent playing touch and training for rugby at the old St. Joseph’s College grounds which is now the Marist Stadium. I started playing club rugby in 1987 as a 5th Former in the Marist St. Joseph’s Junior Limit and became highly involved with the club and its different projects. In 1987 the Marist Brothers and the Marist Old Boys were planning the celebration of 100 years since the arrival of the Marist Brothers in Samoa to be held the following year and so it was there that the Sports Club decided that they were going to host an International 7’s Tournament.

During this time, the only source of international and New Zealand rugby that I had was through the supply of Rugby News (which was in a newspaper format back then) from the Marist Brothers like Br. Kevin O’Malley and Br. Brian Callaghan. There was no TV Samoa only KVZK TV from Pago and so we were far more informed on NFL and College Football than rugby. However if you had a PAL or Multi-System VHS (video machine from NZ or Australia…gosh I’m feeling my age now…no YouTube), the video rental shops like Schuster Videos or Ah Chong Videos had copies of New Zealand test matches vs Australia, 5 Nations Rugby, New Zealand Provincial Rugby and Ranfurly Shield games for rent. PAL Video Systems were not very common back then so not many families had one. Thus whenever we got a chance to watch those videos, it was an all day affair.

It was at this time that Samoans like Michael Jones, Joe Stanley and John Schuster started making headlines as members of the All Blacks.  John Kirwan was by far the most popular rugby player in the world, Terry Wright (like Cory Jane: small built, super fast, fearless, and great skills) was one of the fastest wingers, Zinzan Brooke and Eric Rush were slowly becoming stars playing for NZ 7’s team.

In February 1988 these guys came to Samoa to play in the first ever Marist 7’s. Michael Jones played for Moataa, Joe Stanley played for Tuamasaga, Eric Rush played for Apia, John Schuster for Marist St. Joseph’s, while Kirwan, Wright and Brooke came in the Marist Auckland team that also had All Black Bernie McCahill, Robin Brooke (later to become an All Black lock), a young Pat Lam and Waisake Sotutu. Together with so many well known Samoans from NZ coming back to play for their villages, this was truly an event never before experienced in the country. And for me I was right in the thick of things throughout the whole tournament, as one of the original ball boys.

Ted Wulf, Eneliko and Limi Toleafoa, Ioane Pale, Lelei Kapisi and some other fellows and I, we were all still in school and so the club chose us to be ball boys. I remember George Meredith telling us to buy new white shorts, bring your jogging shoes and the club will give us green and white socks, Polynesian Airline t-shirts and caps. Two days before the tournament we were summoned by Fuiono Felise Vito to be at Lotopa before 3pm, where we were given a lesson by a New Zealand referee on the duties and responsibilities of a ball boy. Here we were thinking that all we had to do was run and collect the ball and have it ready for the line-outs and kick offs, so we were all giggling and joking around thinking to ourselves, “Dude, we got this.” Fuiono didn’t take our actions lightly and we were given an earful that this tournament was serious business and any further joking meant you were out of the club. You have to remember Fuiono was Samoa’s only international referee, so when he spoke we all listened and obeyed, Furthermore being a ball boy gave me a front-row seat of the whole tournament and it was for free.

On the day of the tournament (only one day), we marched with all the teams and referees. Harry Keil organized our uniforms as we had two t-shirts (white Polynesian Airlines and a green Marist St. Joseph’s), the socks, caps, and a green ie lavalava. We had our own cooler of water and given Pinatis curry and chop suey for lunch. All of this for ball boys for crying out loud. This was unheard of back in the day

Then the tournament started and there are three things that I remember the most:

1)      Marist Auckland came out….geez talk about being awestruck. We stood there with our mouths open seeing the sight of this huge palagi named JK running on to Apia Park. We’ve watched him on video and seen his many photos in newspapers and here he was on our grounds playing in our park. Then came a lineout, I ran up with the ball and gave it to him and he says, “Thanks mate”, again I stood there dumbstruck. The most popular rugby player in the world just spoke to me….hey I was 15 at the time.

2)       Way before Jonah Lomu and guys of his built became popular, Max Olsen who played for Marist St. John from Fiji (he would later become a 7’s and 15’s Fiji Rep) was the first rugby player that I had seen being so tall (like Simaika) and stocky (like Ofisa) and yet ran like a wing.  He was not only fast and fit, but was an aggressive defender as Fijians were not known for their tackling back then. He was later named the Player of the Tournament.

3)      I can’t remember if it was a pool game or the quarter-finals but it was Vaiala vs Moata’a and to witness one of the greatest tries that I have ever seen. Andy Aiolupo took off from the Moata’a 10 meter line stepped in and passed back out to Michael Jones who then sped down the field with two Vaiala defenders chasing and one sweeper. Five meters from the try line, Jones went straight at the sweeper, crashed into him, at that very moment two defenders hit him from behind, Jones fell flat on his back, his body facing away from the try line but he still had the presence of mind to reach backwards and ground the ball with the three players still on him. I was standing right there next to the corner flag just a couple of meters from where the collision and try was scored. The man stood up, threw me the ball and winked at me as if what he just did was normal. No wonder years later New Zealanders would call him the Iceman.

Moata’a would go on to win the tournament beating Marist St. John. Being part of the club we were all invited to the after match at the Kitano and there I was like a little boy with my program getting all of players’ autographs. The next day Sunday the whole club with all the overseas teams had a picnic at Lefaga and who should I meet and have a long conversation while swimming…none other than JK!!!!