A Rugby Hive Rugby Legends of Tomorrow Spotlight: Fleet-footed 7s Phenom Louisa Tubailagi
A Rugby Hive Rugby Legends of Tomorrow Spotlight:
Fleet-footed 7s Phenom Louisa Tubailagi
You may be wondering who Louisa Tubailagi is and why she's special. But hang tight. Soon enough, it'll all become clear.
In the not too distant future, her name will be synonymous with New Zealand Rugby and the HSBC Sevens Series.
And then, the entire rugby world will know her name.
Just turned 19-year-old Louisa Tubailagi lives in the north of New Zealand in a town called Mangawhai, north of Auckland. She’s a rugby phenom from Fiji who moved to New Zealand in 2018.
She was first identified by David Mays, head coach of the Rugbyvault 7s. Mays is a world-class – and world-traveled – coach. A player’s coach, Mays’ ethos is to help players develop themselves rather than to develop players. He is known for encouraging players to make decisions for themselves, while also inspiring coaches to give athletes the tools they need to make the correct decisions to begin with. He’s astute at spotting talent, having had plenty of opportunity to identify and work with a great number of players over the last several years.
Rugbyvault 7s provides young up and coming athletes the opportunity to play in professional-style competitions to expose their talents. Scouts attend events to track athletes and this is how Louisa was “discovered” at a schools 7s tournament in 2019, where she impressed.
Tubailagi has been identified as a future potential Black Ferns 7s athlete. The Black Ferns program is growing strength to strength and has become so successful that there are a lot of young girls striving to play rugby in New Zealand, resulting in an even greater talent pool than usual.
Mays wouldn’t be the only coach to say that Louisa has something special about her; she is extremely fast, but she’s hard working and has been gifted with a clever ‘rugby brain’ – that innate talent of knowing how to get the job done.
“She wants to work hard and is willing to go through anything to get it. She asks for a lot of advice, asks what she needs to do next. She has a great support system in her family, especially Mom, Mere. Fan number one. Louisa is a beautiful soul who radiates energy and is one of the most exciting talents we have in New Zealand, and who will likely go to the Olympics for New Zealand in the next Olympic cycle,” Mays explains.
Impressed yet? I know, us too.
But it might surprise you to know that it wasn’t always a rugby life for Louisa.
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Tubailagi excelled in track (athletics) back in Fiji. She played any and all sports in school and believes that being multi-disciplined in many sports is beneficial and helps advance skills and the mentality needed to excel in any sport.
While she admits that she now loves focusing on rugby, it still comes close to athletics for her. Until she was 18, she was a track star first and foremost, not even playing rugby casually with friends or family back in Fiji.
But after the relocation to New Zealand, it became evident that athletics wasn’t as big a school focus as the oval ball, so her Mom switched her to rugby. There Louisa discovered with joy how she could have the best of both worlds. With her skill-set, Louisa is able to combine her love of speed and athleticism with rugby skills handily. And while both she and Mays admit there is much yet to learn, Tubailagi is well on her way. This is another mark of a good player – one who knows and freely admits that there are skills yet to sharpen.
Louisa was shocked to be selected for the Re-Ignite Black Fern 7s Series, and still doesn’t quite believe her new reality. At first, she assumed it might only be for the one tournament, so it has been a pleasant surprise that her good fortune has continued.
As I review the reels of her putting the afterburners on, I’m not sure why she’s surprised. She’s good. Scary good. She’s extremely fast. And she scores tries.
I bet if one were to pore through her match records, they’d see that she’s been able to cross the whitewash at pretty much every game she’s taken part in.
Rugbyvault got an invite from New Zealand 7s to take their talented players to a camp and expose their young athletes to an Olympic style tournament (four team mini-series, playing over three days, two games a day). Louisa was one of the approximately 50 athletes identified to take part in it.
The “mini-Olympic style tournament” is great exposure for players on a multitude of levels and is an incredible opportunity. If Louisa represents herself well and plays to her strengths, she could see herself as part of the Black Ferns 7s program post-Olympics – when new contracts will be presented and a few of the senior players hang up their boots from representative sevens.
This would be a most special moment for the usually humble and reserved Louisa. While she wouldn’t be the youngest Black Fern, she would be the first Fijian-born Black Fern. This is the goal she has firmly set for herself and won’t let anything stand in the way of that. So much so that she’s strict with herself. In her mind, there’s plenty of time after she has achieved her goals to do things such as “party.” For now, it’s eyes on the prize.
She spent the Fall of 2020 playing alongside rugby heroes Portia Woodman and Tyla Nathan-Wong for Northland at the Farah Palmer Cup. The opportunity to learn from Black Fern players arose as a result of Covid-19; Since the 7s World Series was cancelled midway through the season, the veteran stars were able to play at the Provincial level and mentor younger players.
Tubailagi was “buzzing” at the opportunity to play on the same team as idol Woodman, admitting that she didn’t expect to play alongside Woodman and Tyla Nathan-Wong at all. After the initial star-struck stage, Louisa felt she learned much from them.
The seasoned veterans taking on the up-and-coming players and acting as role models has benefitted the program immensely and brought a sense of professionalism to the younger women; with Covid-19 pretty much under control in New Zealand, it’s been a training tool one normally would never dream of tapping. “Exposing younger players to how professional athletes train and look after themselves and see their daily habits is a real learning opportunity,” Mays says. Being able to train and play with (and against) the best is yet another advantage that the New Zealand program can boast as we approach the Olympics in Tokyo.
“Playing against the best players in the world was a great experience and a surreal one too. When you play against the best it brings out the best in you. I'm always up for a challenge, always trying to measure myself against the best players in the world. That's the only way you'll see where you really stand. I’m really glad and thankful to David and Richard Wilson (Digger) to get the opportunity to play against the best in the world. Playing against the Black Ferns is any player’s dream. Being on the same field with them is a dream come true as these are the players whom I look up to and only watch on TV. Many don’t get to play on this level, so I grabbed it with both hands, and cherish the opportunity to learn from the experience.”– Louisa Tubailagi
David Mays has had nine young players go through his programs who have secured full Black Fern contracts. Currently he has three or four really talented young women who are in the running to be part of the next generation of Black Fern 7s programs, including Louisa. Though he is quick to add that Louisa, with her speed and agility, is definitely different from other players. It is an exciting prospect for the seasoned coach. He is as excited as Louisa herself to see where it leads.
“The modern athlete has to be humble, hardworking, and smart,” Mays says, “and Louisa possesses those three key qualities that will take her to the top.” Regarding “smart”, Mays proudly confirms that next year Louisa will be heading to University where she will study Sports Science – and play rugby.
To get there, Louisa hits the gym daily, sometimes twice. For fun, she spends time at the local beach and hangs out with her friends. There may even be a tik-tok video or two. It’s good to know that while she’s focused on her goals Tubailagi is still busy being a young adult.
To younger players who want to play rugby on the international stage, Louisa offers this advice: “Just believe you can do it. Never give up. And be disciplined both on and off the field…. And stay humble and work hard.”
There is no question as to how closely Louisa follows her own advice. She is driven to reach her goal.
She is going to be the first Fijian-born Black Fern if she continues to progress the way she has in her first two years of rugby.
While she’s new to the game, her decision-making and core 7s skills are superb.
Mays offers that big opportunities have already presented for his young star in the making. “Louisa wouldn’t tell you this, but she’s been offered a professional contract in Japan and an opportunity to play for Fiji in this year’s World Cup, but she has turned down both offers as it conflicts with her goal of playing for New Zealand as the first female Fijian athlete.”
Note: The quote was offered days before World Rugby announced an official postponement of the Women’s 15s World Cup that was to be hosted in New Zealand at the end of the summer.
Now that the tournament has been deferred, does that alter Tubailagi’s focus at all? No. She’s going to stick to her 7s goals for the foreseeable future.
There aren’t many just-turned-19-year-olds as determined, as focused, and as driven to their goals as Louisa Tubailagi. She’s not just exciting to watch because she’s good. She’s exciting to watch because she is thankful every day for the opportunities presented to her.
She doesn’t take a single thing for granted. Those are the players we cheer for loudest.
Karen L. Gasbarino, March 2021
Rugby Hive Editor
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