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U.S. rugby star Joe Taufete'e lives out Christian faith as he leads Eagles in Rugby World Cup

Joe Taufete’e never planned on playing rugby. But then he never planned on becoming a Christian either. In both cases, the pathway involved a girl.

“When I was 16 years old, I had my eye on a girl,” Taufete’e wrote at SportGoMag.com. “This girl was deeply rooted in the church environment, but I was of the world, and the whole church thing was new to me. When I tried to chase her down, she simply told me that her faith was her life and if I wanted to be a part of it, I had to choose Jesus. So I started going to church with her and her family to see what it was all about, and I soon discovered the power of having a relationship with Christ for myself.”

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When Taufete’e tore his ACL playing junior college football, he was introduced to the sport of rugby through the same girl — who is now his wife, Noeleen. Her family followed the sport and at first Taufete’e thought learning rugby would be a good way to get in with the family. But he soon discovered he was good at it. It wasn’t long before Taufete’e was playing for the Belmont Shore Rugby Football club in Long Beach, Calif., one of the premier rugby clubs in the U.S., and grabbing the attention of the U.S. national rugby team — the Eagles.

“[USA Rugby was] asking me to come be a day-camper,” Taufete’e said. “I was excited to be able to play the sport at such a high level! At 22, I came into camp and played the game well … and to my surprise, I was invited to play at the 2015 World Cup with the Eagles. I joined the team for the Cup and found it was an amazing experience … Being able to go to the World Cup as a young, up-and-coming player was incredible. Now, being a veteran on the national team, the position seems surreal.”

Taufete’e, who was born in American Samoa and raised in California, is currently in Japan with the U.S. national team for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The Eagles are ranked 13th in the world and took on No. 3 England in their first match Thursday, and fell 45-7. Playing the hooker position, Taufete’e is among the team’s 15 starters and logged 59 minutes against England.

Thursday’s game marked the 24th career appearance for Taufete’e with the U.S. national team, during which time he’s scored 20 tries, breaking the international record for any player in the tight five (hooker, prop or lock), set by former Ireland great Keith Wood. Taufete’e has also become a star for his professional club, the Worcester Warriors, one of 12 clubs in Premiership Rugby, the top division of the English rugby union system.

Despite Taufete’e’s success, he’s a quiet presence in the clubhouse, and quick to give credit to his teammates. Taufete’e says he tries to show his faith through his quiet dedication.

“I’m not the most talkative guy on the team, but I try to be a good role model for the rest of my team through my actions,” Taufete’e said. “I train for the game the same way I work on my spiritual walk with God — I work hard and let my actions speak loudly. I want my light for Christ to shine wherever I am and with whatever I am doing. I have this platform and I want to use it to share God’s Word.

“I want to be remembered as someone who represented Jesus, having followed His plan for me. Because without God, none of this would be possible.”

The Eagles play their second of four World Cup pool matches on Wednesday against France.

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