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Portrait of Meafou, lucky heavyweight

This phenomenon of the Top 14 has an extraordinary trajectory. A time as a facade when he was working to earn a living in Australia, Meafou almost joined the NFL, the famous American football pro championship, before finally landing at the Toulouse stadium. With the ambition that this path now leads him to Les Bleus.

A career sometimes takes little. Imagine that the colossal second line of Stade Toulouse Emmanuel Meafou could today be an American footballer and operate as a “lineman” in the famous NFL championship. Rather than settling down in the United States, he nevertheless landed in Ernest-Wallon in December 2018. Looking back three years with the Australian: “I had no Super Rugby contract, no contact. I didn’t know what I was going to do. My agent told me there was an opportunity in the NFL. Recruiters wanted to take five guys from around the world for a three-month internship at an academy in Florida to join the NFL. There was a trial in Gold Coast, Queensland, I took a chance and got picked. My agent told me: “If you’re ready to go to the United States, are you ready to leave Australia and get away from your family? » He had already suggested that I come to France, I replied: “No, I don’t want to leave the country, I want to play in Super Rugby. » There, he warned me that he was sending a video of me to France. I said : “OK for one last attempt. » Several French clubs have come forward, including Toulouse. In Australia, I didn’t know anything about the Top 14 or European rugby. » Farewell to American football. Direction France, where he arrived in time to claim Jiff status. But why Toulouse? “Because there was Jerome Kaino!” » Did he know the double all black world champion? “Not at all, but he is my father’s favorite player. » And Meafou to continue with this tasty anecdote: “I believe the club asked Jerome to call me. One day he gave me a call. I said : “It’s good, I’m going to Toulouse. » My dad was hallucinating. Jerome was an icon for him and now I consider him my family. That’s crazy… “

“If you stay at home, you will end up too fat”

As crazy finally as the unexpected trajectory of Meafou. Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, the boy landed in Australia, Sydney, at age 2, before later migrating to Brisbane. Which makes him say with a smile: “I have New Zealand and Samoan passports, as well as Australian citizenship. I now hope to have French nationality! » He first played rugby league from 5 to 16 years old. “Then I started playing XV during my last two years of school. But, at 18, I lost the flame and I said stop. I told my mom: “I no longer have the passion for the XV, I stop for a year. » But I gained a lot of weight during this year and my mother came back to me: “Go back to play now, even for fun. At home, you do nothing, or only eat. If you stay here, you’ll end up too fat. » I picked up with a friend in Brisbane, just for fun. I had a blast and rediscovered the love of this sport. » This allowed him to go to Melbourne to join the Rebels under-20 team. “It lasted two seasons but the Rebels didn’t offer me a professional contract. I understand, I was not efficient enough, not up to what my size let hope. I came back to Brisbane, where I played a season with my old club. Then another in Sydney, at Warringah RC. » At that time, Meafou had to work on the side to earn a living. A surprising job seeing the “beast”… “I got up at 6 a.m. to go to work until 5 p.m., before going to training at 6 p.m. I was a facade builder and I worked on scaffolding. They were solid (laughs). »

“Dude, you really are in the best French club”

Everything has since accelerated for this extraordinary potential. “When I was young, my father said to me: “You have everything, the body and the skills. » I didn’t believe him. I was just a kid and answered him: “Anyone can catch a ball and make a tackle. » I realize today that I am blessed and that it is rare. I have to train hard as much as possible, pay attention to my physical form. I believe I can be a very special player. » To achieve this, the interested party went to the revealing of the Toulouse staff, who were quickly convinced of his exceptional qualities. A few days after his arrival in France, Ugo Mola told us: “We have a phenomenon. » But always with a constraint to manage, that of weight. “When I met the coaches, I weighed 162 kg, says Meafou. It’s been a long road to lose. But they believed in me and I worked. » Overweight, he monitors them on a daily basis. An absolute imperative to its success. Which reminds him of this funny memory: “When I tried out to join the NFL, I was at 156 kg and the recruiters told me: “You need to put on at least five kilos. » I replied: “For me, it’s easy! In Toulouse, it was the opposite. Despite this fight against himself, Meafou quickly felt at ease. “I was shy, I was scared. I was leaving Australia for the first time and didn’t speak the language. But it was simple. » He quickly became close to Tekori, Kaino, Ahki, Kolbe, Ainu’u or the French Polynesians in the group. ” We are a family. It’s my fourth season here and I can’t imagine myself leaving. I have friends in other clubs with whom I often discuss it, like Reece Hewat who signed three years in Pau and with whom I played in Australia. » He had landed in France at the same time as Meafou, in Aurillac. “He called me: “How is the weather in Toulouse? » I said to him: “Normally, the weather is rather nice. » And he adds: “Here it is cold, there is snow everywhere. » For my first season, Stade Toulousain is champion of France and Reece assured me “Man, you’re so lucky. First year, you are champion. Then you do the double. You really are in the best French club. » I just replied: “We win, it’s great. But the strongest thing is that the guys are great. »

“My next dream is to play for the France team”

This 2020-2021 season of the double is also that of the advent of Meafou. He laughs: “Before, few people came to see me. Now people ask me for photos, autographs. They know my face, I was not used to it. » Even if the exercise ended for him with a foot injury during the last meeting of the regular phase, in Bordeaux, depriving him of the final phases which were promised to him. “I had a conversation with my teammates and told them: “It’s the first time since I’ve been here that I feel really ready to play in the big games. » I knew I was up to it… When the doctor said: “It’s over for the season”, it was hard to swallow. Nevertheless, he showed that he was Joe Tekori’s successor to Ernest-Wallon. “Joe will leave a huge legacy. His career is extraordinary but he is also a unique human being. He is for so much in my success. He helped me even more off the pitch than on it. The mental strength that Joe and his family gave me was decisive. Hearing people compare me to him is a blessing. Even if I want to chart my own path. » Who could lead him on the international stage. He does not hide it: “My next dream is to play for the France team. I learned from this country, I feel part of it. I want to give back to France what it has given me. I have lived most of my life in Australia and when I was there my dream was to play in Super Rugby and wear the Wallabies shirt. Australia could not offer me this chance. It was in France that I signed my first professional contract. It’s my life now. This is where I grow and flourish. France is my home now, so I want to put on the blue tunic. »

And when he heard Fabien Galthié affirm that there would be new UFOs by 2023, it was hard not to feel targeted… “Several people mentioned my name, which made me happy. I know that I can be one of the UFOs of the XV of France but I also know that I still have work to do to make the dream realistic. I spoke a lot with William Servat, the staff is watching me. I started the process to get the passport a few months ago. My goal is to play in the next World Cup. » Gone are the days when he saw himself switching to another sport and joining the NFL… “Wait, I saw that an Australian (Jordan Mailata), who was playing rugby league in Sydney, did the same detection as me and signed a five-year contract in the NFL for 100 million dollars, he laughs. I’m going to talk to Jérôme Cazalbou (manager from the top of Toulouse, editor’s note) about it to see if I can take out a loan in the NFL! »And to conclude, more seriously: “My dream was not to play in the NFL but to be a professional rugby player. I live my dream. »

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