Tongan prop Halani Aulika scored one of the tries of the Aviva Premiership weekend on Sunday as London Irish drew 33-33 with Sale Sharks at the Madejski Stadium. The big front rower is the club’s leading try-scorer this season, but was almost lost to rugby.
London Irish scored early on as Guy Armitage crashed over following a good piece of running by Sailosi Tagicakibau, before Aulika’s try set the stadium alight a few minutes later. It was his ninth in 24 appearances for the club, a stat that boss Brian Smith finds hard to ignore.
“Halani is going from strength to strength. He is genuinely getting into world-class calibre. He is as good as anything in the Premiership and there are a lot of good tight-heads in the league,” Smith said of the former Otago tighthead, who joined London Irish last July.
Aulika told BBC Radio Berkshire recently that a chance meeting with Keven Mealamu in 2009 actually brought him back into rugby, after he was ‘eating and drinking too much’.
“His brother (Luke Mealamu) was coaching one of the clubs in Auckland and they tried to get me to go to training to lose some weight,” said the 29-year-old.
“They came to pick me up and forced me to start training. I used to be 152 kilos (he is now 122kg). I was lazy, I was overweight, I knew what it would take to be professional and always in the back of my mind wanted to be professional and make a life out of playing rugby.
“And then I started playing and losing weight and I realised I could do it. I was 27 or 28 and I wanted to be someone young players looked up to and hopefully they will learn something from me.
“It was hard with the food – I love food and that was the hardest thing. My family love eating. They are all oversized but when I started my career I started eating healthily and helped them by telling them what food they should or shouldn’t be eating.”
Aulika went on to become a professional rugby player in 2010, and represented his country, Tonga, at the Rugby World Cup in 2011. Now at London Irish, he says he is living the dream.
“If you have a dream, don’t give up on it, just keep going until you get it. That’s what happened to me. I had a dream, I gave up, but then I got back into it. Now I can run with the ball rather than walk with it. This is a good thing, I feel good and I’m so happy.”
Great words from a man that has come a long way in a short period of time. Lovely try too.