Aviva Premiership flanker, Nili Latu spoke to us about his career with Newcastle Falcons, playing international Rugby and how his faith in Jesus has helped him taste success both on and off the field.
Nili, how did you get into playing Rugby?
“It first started when I was at a young age; I moved from Tonga to New Zealand in 1991. Everybody was playing Rugby, and I just wanted to play with my friends so it all started from there.”
At the moment your at Newcastle Falcons, what was it like adapting to a new environment and moving over to England?
“I expected everything to be different. I had been in my own environment in New Zealand and so I think just trying to adapt, and being in Japan for a season, and moving here. I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far and just the people I am around makes my life easier for me and my family.”
How is this season going for you personally?
“Well, it hasn’t been the great start that I wanted at the beginning of the year. God has everything planned and re-grouping me as a player, so I’ve been out for the last seven months but have been back playing for the last three weeks so it’s been amazing to be out for that long and then be blessed to be given another chance to go again.”
So, can you tell us how you became a Christian?
“I was bought up in a Christian family and environment. For me it was the platform that my great, great Grandfather put before myself. It was easy to commit at a young age. We went to church every Wednesday and Sunday. I guess the hardest time is when I travel, because it’s just different religion, but you do find peace and time to trust yourself to God. Knowing he’s there; it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in, because God is always with you.”
So, would you say knowing that truth helps you in your life today as a Rugby player?
“I believe He is keeping me humble as a Rugby player and He’s showing His plan that He had for me from day one. I’m having an amazing rugby career; I’m so blessed to still be playing Rugby and I know it’s all from Him. I know when my time is up, I know He will still have plans for me and for the future.”
Are there any other Rugby players you talk about your faith with?
“We have some Tonga players in the team and one Fijian and one Samoan. We all kind of relate to each other in our faith. We’ve all been bought up in the islands as Christians, so our faith is weekly and the backbone to our life and we know without it, there is no foundation to our Rugby and our families. It’s the most important thing to us.”
You’re just coming back from injury, would you say it’s been hard to stay at faithful at times?
“I don’t think it was hard. It was my first big operation and especially with my age, I’m thirty-five now, and you know I sat down and asked, ‘do you want me to retire now and look through to the next chapter of my life, or do you want me to hang on?’.
I just sort of struck back on my whole Rugby career and really believed these 7 months have been my longest break in my career and then I made up my mind that he’s given me a long rest. It has been hard, but I knew that he was giving me a break from Rugby and that he wants me to keep going. At the moment I’m happy being out there, because I know he wants me to be out there.”
Would you say you had a favourite Bible verse?
“Yeah, I can’t actually remember the name of the verse itself, but with it, I know that if I derail with my thoughts and my path we all know what happens. I think it’s just obeying and listening to him. At times you do get tested, but I think it’s about getting up and going again, because he doesn’t want you to fail- he wants you to succeed in life. He wants his people and children to enjoy life and go through him.”
Finally Nili, what advice would you give to young Christian players of the game wanting to further their career?
“We talk about working hard. It says in the Bible if you work hard, he will favour you. I think looking at where I started, I probably wasn’t the most talented Rugby player, I just threw my hard work in and believing in his word and his teaching has got me through. You’ve got to set your foundation with God no matter what. There is times when you’ll go through injuries, but you’ve got to give him your all and trust- he’ll show favours in many ways.”