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‘I was close to being an LA drop-out’

Monster hooker Joe Taufete’e has been a massive hit at Sixways but it was not so long ago that the huge American with Samoan heritage was close to breaking point. Only the support of his wife, Noeleen, and love for a new-found game called rugby, combined to drag him out of the gutter after injury wrecked his dream of an NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers.

Taufete’e, 24, who tips the scales at 20st 5lbs (130kgs), was on the road to success as a defensive tackle at Santa Ana College in Los Angeles, when his hopes were dashed by an ACL injury as teams queued for his services in 2011.

Taufete’e, who last week saw his Warriors deal extended after joining from USA pro team Belmont Shore in December, told The Rugby Paper: “I grew up playing American Football and the dream of any naturalised Samoan is to play NFL. Growing up in the Bay Area of San Francisco I was always a 49ers fan and after starting out as a quarter-back, I grew quickly and became a pretty useful defensive tackle.

“I didn’t do that well in high school but things went great in football and senior colleges were lining up for me to go on scholarships, which would’ve been huge. But then I got my injury and it felt like everything was taken away.

“That led me to stop going to school and it affected me badly. I lost the chance of all those scholarships and it left me depressed.

“I took a whole year off. I was overweight and just working in security jobs or under the counter stuff. It was a real dark place, but luckily my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, lit a fire under my butt and told me to do something.”

Taufete’e explained candidly: “I had nowhere to go. I was on a downward spiral and was going to be the typical Polynesian drop-out in that Bay Area, but luckily Noeleen was there for me.

“She took me to see her family and they talked about rugby and how all these big kids were doing great things. It kind of intrigued me so, as I was looking to impress her and her family, I gave it a go and found I really enjoyed it.

“She changed my life and rugby gave me the motivation to do something. I never imagined I would get to the stage I’m at now, playing professional rugby for Worcester in one of the best leagues in the world.”

A meteoric rise saw Taufete’e handed his first USA cap against mighty South Africa at the 2015 World Cup – “We were playing against the big dogs of South Africa and it was a huge shock – I was star-struck,” he recalls.

Since then he has come under the tutelage of former England hooker Phil Greening, who is coaching USA’s forwards ahead of his summer’s World Cup qualifiers against Canada.

Taufete’e said: “It’s hard for Americans to come over here but Phil has been real helpful in imparting his knowledge as a former top-class hooker. He’s taught me so much and I can’t wait to put on that USA jersey again this summer.

“Before that, I want to finish this season well with Worcester. I believe we’re turning things around under Gary Gold. There’s a lot of clarity here now and we believe we’re on track to make an impact next season.”

NEALE HARVEY

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