Andrew Gibbs was Soni Tauke'aho’s first rugby coach at St Paul’s and has watched him mature from a shy Tongan school boy, to an All Black. Gibbs reflects on his through the ranks.
“When you talk about Soni, it is always Soni and Peli (Asipeli Mafuataimi), (Williams 2013-2015).” Peli was another young man from Tonga who came to New Zealand at the same time as Soni. They were the captain and vice-captain of the Tongan U15 rugby team. As a pair, they were formidable on the field and best mates off the field. I don’t think there is anyone from school who when remembering Soni would
forget that the other half of the duo was Peli. Unfortunately, Peli was not as durable as Soni and had a couple of injuries that meant he could not continue to play rugby. He is now a farmer on the island of
Vava’u in Tonga.
“My first impression of Soni was, wow, this guy is going to be special. This shone through immediately.”
Soni’s first VX coach reflects on his remarkable story I have coached many outstanding players at the first XV level. Many have had the mental game, the skill factor, the emotional capability, or the physical ability. Few have had all of these, and that is what makes Soni special. He has the total package needed to play our game at the highest level.
Apart from being the complete player, Soni is also hugely loyal. He is a St Paul’s man, a Sargood man, and a family man. He is loyal to all those who show him trust and loyalty. Soni is incredibly driven and a hard worker. At St Paul’s he graduated with a Merit endorsement at the end of Year 13. This is an amazing achievement for someone with English as a second language.
He has also continued to study law alongside his rugby playing. Soni is very goaldriven and once he has his mind fixed on something it is very hard to change it.
As a player, he was one of, if not, our hardest workers, even though he was one of the best players. He never rested on his laurels and displayed hard work, commitment, and personal sacrifice in all he did both on and off the field. He was a “follow me” type leader as the captain and would never ask others to
do things he would not do himself. He was a huge competitor and hated losing. He was always very gracious and didn’t sulk about it, but you could see it in his eyes that he was never happy with second place.
When he made the All Blacks Soni called me to say he was going to be selected. Soni has never forgotten where this journey started and although he has done all the hard work himself, he is quick to
remember those who have helped him along the way.
They often say that great men make great All Blacks. Whilst Soni will no doubt continue to
be an amazing rugby player I don’t think this will ever define him as a person. He comes from a wonderful family, is clever, loyal, empathetic, and committed to anything he does.
Soni really is a good man and I am proud to have been his first XV coach and now friend.