If you’re lucky, your team has a player like Aggy Faraimo (Fakaofo, Savalalo, Lotopa, Ovalau). Big hits, big carries and an even bigger laugh. When she turns up, she lifts the team up. She’ll listen intently when you speak but only to find the best joke out of something you’ve said. Faraimo is always on. Which is why the news of her cancer has hit our rugby community hard.
Her diagnosis bookends what has been an unjustly tough period for Faraimo’s aiga. Her partner, Sione “Bah” Tuiano was killed in a car accident back in 2017, leaving Faraimo to raise their two children, Anne and Bureta. Faraimo isn’t alone though, wrapped in the love of her partner Sef Tavita, her family and wider community. And of course, the rugby sisterhood.
It didn’t take long for that sisterhood to take action. First was the Givealittle page to support the whānau while Faraimo underwent treatment and then the team started to dream a little bigger.
“We were going in for weekly visits to go and see Aggy.” explains former Northern United player and friend, Tepora Samia. “And it kind of just started off as a joke. Like, if we had a charity game that we would put the boots back on after a few years. And we all just kind of cracked up about it.
“But then when me and Patsy (Schwalger) were driving home we were like, should we just do the work and just see who’s interested?”
Turns out many were keen on the idea, jumping at the chance to play the game they love for the mate they love.
Planning commenced, pulling together a production that would outshine most club final days. T-shirts and jerseys were printed for purchase, hampers assembled for raffles, food was prepared, a PA system and livestream set up. Forty players were registered and master organiser, Patsy Schwalger, roped in a couple of old girls to coach.
Coaches Dawn Patelesio of Northern United and Moana Laumatia of Hutt Old Boys Marist would have played around 500 club games between them. The old rivals tease each other as we talk after the game. Like an old married couple, they finish each other’s sentences.
“I think rugby is that lifetime friendship so it doesn’t matter what club.” says Laumatia “With Aggy, just her fight is bigger than anyone else here. And so just our little way of showing-”
“We’re here to fight with her.” finishes Patelesio.
The involvement of these two old girls is a nod to Faraimo’s club heritage. Having played union for both clubs as well as captaining the Wellington Orcas, the women’s provincial league team, last season.
The dynamic duo lead the players through some warm ups and then it’s game on. The players, wearing the jerseys of Faraimo’s clubs, were led onto the field by her children.
The match itself was good serious fun. Cycling through variations of touch, hold and a last quarter of full contact. Many club legends as well as former league and union representatives had come out of retirement to play. They were joined on the pitch by the next generation. The youngest, 13 year-old Tee-Queeva Ben-Tupuola of Sacred Heart College, met the match with a physicality beyond her years. Mercifully the subs were rolling.
“That competitiveness kicked in and they weren’t letting me score but that’s okay.” laughs Samia, who had briefed the teams to let her through before the game. “Awesome laughs and a lot of heavy breathing but it was so fun.”
“If you have a look at that game, we had a mix of old and young. So we are already passing that baton on.” reflects Patelesio “We’ve brought our kids along to learn that this is all part of our rugby culture for women’s rugby.”
This fundraiser was as effective at raising the spirits of the Wellington women’s club scene as it was funds for Faraimo. It’s been a tough time of late, the number of clubs declining as the union struggles to connect with its player base. The same weekend this match is held, the Wellington Pride play their last match in the Farah Palmer Cup Premiership. Their valiant loss to Waikato confirmed their relegation.
Lessons are here, then, for rugby to learn. Most importantly, that’s the value of the women that play it.
“I think it’s those Pasifika values that it’s probably been instilled in Aggy’s life. What her parents have instilled in her. So what she’s brought to Norths and brought to Hutt Old Boys, she’s kept the same energy.” says Laumatia “It’s those values that have been embedded. It’s our values and actioning our values. There’s some things that we can talk about but it’s actioning it.”
“As rugby players, as mums, as aunties, as the village, there’s a set of skills that it’s not just the rugby field. It’s also this kind of stuff, it’s that manaakitanga, looking after each other.”
Fairamo will be well looked after by her community – moments like these transcending the sport and reminding us all why it is we lace up each season. Not for the game, not for our clubs but for each other. For women’s rugby and Fairamo to return to good health, they will need to lean on that sisterhood.
“What it comes down to is just, man, show us some faith, show some trust in us.” says Patelesio “And we will show you that this is what it really is all about.”