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The secret to sporting success: ‘Work hard, run and eat well’

Saturday 1 April 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Rugby Union, Sports


The secret to sporting success: ‘Work hard, run and eat well’
Barbra Auva’a (third left) and Saphire Abraham (fourth left) with Tereora College students who attended the training sessions this week. MELINA ETCHES/23033004

Cook Islander Saphire Abraham who plays in the Hurricanes Poua, a New Zealand women’s professional rugby union team based in Wellington, is visiting Rarotonga conducting rugby skill sessions, with her partner Barbra Auva’a, New Zealand’s U72 power lifting open champion who transitioned to rugby about three years ago. The women have been sharing their training skills and technique with local talent.

The women are visiting the island more for a holiday since Abraham has finished the rugby season in New Zealand with a 29-24 win over the Blues, to claim third spot in Super Rugby Aupiki.

Twenty-two-year-old Abraham hails from the northern island of Manihiki from the Matatia family – her mother is Tania Matatia and her father Joseph Abraham.

Visiting the students at Nukutere and Tereora College to share some rugby knowledge and skills on Thursday has made her want to return more often to give back to the sport and people she loves the most.

“It was fun at Nukutere and it makes me want to come back more often because here you don’t have the programmes which are available in New Zealand,” said Abraham.

Abraham made her debut for Hurricane Poa this yar after being struck with Covid last year.

“It was amazing and it was good beating the Blues for our final (third playoff).”

A highlight for Abraham was “seeing the crowds who come and support women rugby”.

Abraham’s words of advice to girls and women who want a career in rugby are, “work hard, that’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere, work hard for it, run and eat healthy, and well, try and get your friends to join in”.

Auva’a is a Samoan and holds the New Zealand and Oceania records for the squat (185kg) and deadlift (201kg) in the U72 division.

Born in Samoa, she has graced the catwalk when she ran for Miss World Samoa – as a way to give back to her country – and has made the squad for the Manusina Samoan women’s team.

Auva’a currently plays for the College Rifles club in Auckland, New Zealand and still keeps on with power and weight lifting on the side, “since it really does help”.

“Like a lot of the athletes know now, you need both, you need to be strong, so since I’ve had that as my foundation it made the transition a lot easier.

“I didn’t have the skills to play rugby but I was really athletic growing up, I could run fast, I was strong to hold my weight and take somebody down.”

The sporting world is male dominated, says Auva’a and women who want to play professional rugby should “go for it”.

“Number one is to find a club, find a coach, find somebody who is willing to help you and stay with them long term and make the commitment.

“And if you can’t find anybody, start running you don’t need anything for that, start doing push ups, squats, so that you’re ready when you do find a club.

“Dedicate yourself to something, the foundation is there so just commit. You’ve got to be committed, dedicated and have perseverance.”

Drawing from her experiences, Auva’a said: “There will be a time when somebody is going to say ‘no’ and somebody is going to say ‘you’re not good enough’ and that’s okay, you wipe it off and go again.”

“The number of times I’ve failed … you know my biggest lessons that I’ve learnt are from all my failures.

“So you’ve got to learn by failing, but you’ve got to get back up and go again.”

This being her first visit to the Cook Islands paradise, Auva’a says “it has been amazing and just beautiful”.

“I was born in Samoa, it’s such a humbling experience being here. This is a good reminder to not forget where you started…”

Abraham and Auva’a would like to return and give more to the girls and women in rugby so they can see that a career is possible.

A special meet and greet dinner with the women organised by the Cook Islands Rugby Union will be held on Monday, April 3 at The Laguna restaurant for $35 per person. Contact Harriet Tuara on 74311 to make a booking.