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Tireless Tongan Timani loving life in Wales

22 Nov 2023 5 minute read
Lopeti Timani. Photo www.inpho.ie

Simon Thomas

Having just posted season’s best figures in the URC, Lopeti Timani is clearly thriving in his new role at Cardiff Rugby.

The official stats show the tireless Tongan made a remarkable 30 carries in the 22-22 draw with Zebre Parma out in northern Italy last weekend.

That’s more than any other player in the league this term by some distance, with the previous best having been 22 by Emirates Lions flanker Emmanuel Tshituka in Round 3.

On top of that, the 6ft 5ins, 19st 2lbs Timani also claimed a sharply taken try, put in 12 tackles, conjured up three offloads and secured two turnovers.

Test rugby

By any measure, it was some performance from the man who has played Test rugby for both Australia and Tonga.

It was confirmation he is really coming into his own in his second season with Cardiff, having switched to No 8 after spending most of last term in the second row.

“That’s where I reckon I play my best rugby,” he says.

Timani is also relishing the approach to the game at the Arms Park – and in the BKT URC in general – after spending four years in France with La Rochelle and Toulon.

“I enjoy being here. The training and the style of rugby is similar to what I had back in Australia,” says the former Melbourne Rebels star.

“In Australia, rugby is a running game, it’s all about playing quick. When I moved to France, it was a different kind of rugby they played there. It was more set-piece stuff, all about the strong man at scrum and mauling.

“In my head, Wales meant running rugby. That’s why I moved here, so I could get involved again in that style of game I was brought up on in Australia, which I like to play.”

Rugby League

Born in the Tongan village of Navutoka, he made his mark at age-grade level, but then moved to Australia when he was 18, initially switching to rugby league. He returned to the 15-a-side game after a couple of years and soon caught the eye with the Waratahs, ahead of joining the Rebels.

Then came 12 caps in the back row with the Wallabies.

With the move to France, it looked as though his international career was over until World Rugby changed the eligibility rules, enabling him to play for the land of his birth, having not appeared for the Wallabies for three years.

So it was that he made history by becoming the first man to play for a second country under the new rules, stepping out for Tonga against England at Twickenham in November 2021.

“When I played for Australia, I gave everything, but that’s not where I was born and bred,” he says.

“It’s a different emotional feeling playing for your own country. It’s more than rugby. It’s very special.”

Now Timani has found a new home from home in Cardiff for himself and his family, with three children – two boys and a girl – all under the age of five.

“It’s busy every day – chaos. It’s crazy in the house!” he says.

“But we have settled in well and are really enjoying our time here, with the parks and the cafes.

“Everyone has been so nice, all the players, the staff and the fans.”

The 33-year-old has played at countless grounds around the world on a rugby journey that has taken in two codes, numerous competitions and two international careers.

But, for him, there are few places as unique as his current home – the Arms Park.

Stormers

He will run out there once again on Friday night when Cardiff play hosts to the DHL Stormers in Round 6 of the BKT URC.

Explaining why he likes the ground so much, he said: “It’s one of those stadiums where the supporters are so close to the field. So you can hear all the noise when you are running around.

“Some stadiums, the fans are so far away. But here you can hear what people are shouting because they are so close.

“It’s good. It helps the players to get through when it’s a tough game.

“It was awesome for the Vodacom Bulls match and I am sure it will be the same for the DHL Stormers.”

Reflecting on Cardiff’s season so far, he said: “We could have won all our games. They have been so close.

“It’s just about finishing strongly and getting the one per cents right.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for us against the DHL Stormers. The South African sides are always very physical.

“But if we can get the win, it will give us some momentum going forward for the next few weeks.”


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