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Young Gun: Northampton Saints hooker Samson Ma’asi

When you’re the son of a legendary Tongan No.2 and mentored by the England captain, there’s a good chance you’ll make a decent hooker yourself.

Welcome to the world of Northampton academy hooker Samson Ma’asi, 18, who is in the fortunate position of having the best of both worlds now he is forging a path at Franklins’ Gardens under the watchful eye of Dylan Hartley.

Born in Tonga, Samson was a babe in arms when his father, Viliami, upped sticks to seek fame and fortune in England. Joining the Cornish Pirates in 2001, dad helped spearhead the club’s rise from National Three to the Championship before enjoying successful stints at London Welsh, Leeds and Ampthill while winning 32 caps for his country.

“It seemed natural to get into rugby,” says Samson. “Dad was always throwing a ball at me, although I actually started playing Rugby League at school in Leeds before he moved south again and I started playing in the junior sides at Ampthill.

“I played centre for quite a long time but Ampthill switched me to hooker and from there I was picked up by Saints when I was 13. I was half-an-hour late for my first trial because dad didn’t know the way but I managed to get in and I’m part of the same academy group as guys like Connor Tupai, Alex Coles, Joe Wallace and Ollie Sleightholme.

“We’ve got a good bunch of boys and Saints are keen to give guys chances so I’m just working as hard as I can now. I’m on loan at Ampthill at the moment playing against some rough, tough boys and you learn good lessons in National One.”

If his throwing ever goes crook, Ma’asi doesn’t have far to look for advice. “With Dylan at the club, it doesn’t get much better,” he says. “I talk to him every day and if things aren’t going as well as I want them to, he’s really approachable.

“He’s been through it all himself and when it comes to throwing in, he just tells me to be comfortable with what I do. If you think about things too much that’s when you run into problems and he gives simple advice, which is what you want.”

Last season he captained England U18s and while representing Tonga could one day present an option, having been named in the 45-man England U20s squad training in Loughborough last weekend, the fact he has spent most of his life in this country points to a Red Rose future.

He added: “Captaining the U18s last season was a crazy experience and to be in the U20s is a bit surreal now. But I’ll train hard, do my best for Saints and Ampthill and if I get a chance to play in the Six Nations that would be fantastic.”

Dad, who now coaches Peterborough, would be exceedingly proud.

NEALE HARVEY

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