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Family Faith Footy: Pasifika rugby story brings All Black great to tears

Mary Afemata

All Blacks legend brought him to tears after watching a new Pasifika rugby documentary

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

When All Blacks legend Sir Bryan Williams watched a new rugby documentary focused on Pasifika rugby players and the struggles they sometimes face, it brought him to tears.

Family Faith Footy - A Pasifika Rugby Story - is the name of the doco that aired on Sunday on TVNZ.

Williams, who carries the Samoan matai (chiefly) title of Tuifa’asisina, was among those who got to see it ahead of it going to air, at a private viewing.

Documentary director Fa’alava’au Jeremiah Tauamiti says it was important to him that Williams - a former All Blacks winger - saw it first and that he liked it.

“I’m sure that when people see it, particularly our people, they’ll become pretty emotional about it as well.

“Because it just talks about the ups and downs really, of all the obstacles that have been faced and had to be overcome to enable our boys and girls, to achieve at the very highest level of the game of rugby.”

Williams became an All Black in 1970 and toured South Africa that year, and in 1976, during apartheid.

Tauamiti says they got the big tick from Williams, who also gave them a big hug and fatherly kiss.

“He was very emotional. So that was really special.”

Willams’ response is mirrored by the vulnerability of the players in the documentary.

Sir Bryan Williams was given a private screening of Family Faith Footy. Photo / Supplied

Fellow All Blacks players Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau express their roller coaster of emotions and detail the sacrifices they’ve made throughout their careers.

Piutau accepted a lucrative contract offer to play in Ulster in 2016, ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and found himself offside with All Black hierarchy.

He was not selected for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and was blocked from playing for the Blues, before he left for Ireland.

Tauamiti says it was about getting on the same level as the players, giving them their platform to speak freely.

Malakai Fekitoa in Limerick. Photo / Great Southern Television Ltd.

“They shared some really heartfelt moments and spoke about their childhood and losses and spoke about situations where they didn’t handle things the best all the time.”

The documentary shows a level of vulnerability that Tauamiti says is rare and goes deeper than rugby sound bites.

“They were the most emotional when they were talking about their parents…literally every single one of them teared up talking about their mum, their love for their mum especially and their dad and grandparents.”

Williams also features in the documentary and says his parents were supportive of his rugby career.

He also reveals that during his entire rugby playing career, his mother has only watched three of his games.

“She didn’t like seeing us get hurt.”

Another All Blacks great, La’auli Sir Michael Jones, says he grew up in a generation of Kiwi Samoans where Williams was such a powerful force in his life.

“We always felt that if Beegee (Williams) could do it, there’s no reason why, you know, snotty nose little Michael Jones from that household of 12 or 13 Pacific Islanders living out in Henderson, there was no reason I couldn’t be like Beegee and do what he did either.”

Williams has inspired rugby players like Jones from different generations and says his inspiration comes from the All Blacks of the 1960s when he was growing up.

Although the documentary touches on different issues including the pressure of contractual obligations and social media, Williams says there is an obvious difference between now and his playing days.

“The biggest single difference of course was the fact that they now play for money and back when I was playing the game was amateur.”

“We didn’t have to worry about where the next dollar was coming from, it wasn’t coming.”

“We played for the fun of it, for the enjoyment and for whatever jersey you were playing for.”

Williams doesn’t regret not playing professional rugby.

“I’m glad I didn’t because it meant that I and all my contemporaries, we had to make our own way in life.”

With the recent changes to the rugby rules regarding birthright that have allowed Pasifika rugby players to play for their heritage country, Williams is pleased about this.

However, he believes the three-year stand-down period is too long - Williams would make it two years.

Williams says that players can still aspire to play for the All Blacks if they’re in the New Zealand environment but playing for “Samoa, Tonga and Fiji is a very good option nowadays”.

Williams - known as Beegee due to his initials BG from Bryan George Williams - says Family Faith Footy is compulsory viewing for everyone.

“I think because you know it’s emotions, it tells a great story of obstacles and struggles and then gradually overcoming those obstacles to put ourselves, I guess, on the rugby map”.

Hero image: Charles Piutau, in Bristol, one of the Pasifika players featured in Family Faith Footy - A Pasifika Rugby Story. Photo / Great Southern Television Ltd

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