AMANAKI MAFI only arrived at Bath Rugby at the end of January. After an eye catching debut against Worcester he’s already made a big impression.
Fourteen months ago Amanaki Lelei Mafi was lying in a hospital bed wondering if he would ever play rugby again, having dislocated his hip in a game for his Japanese club side NTT Communications Shining Arcs. Following a remarkable Rugby World Cup that saw Japan win new fans across the globe, and which included a memorable victory against the Springboks, on Saturday 13 February he became just the third Brave Blossom to play in the English Premiership, helping his new side record their first victory of 2016. He made quite an impression.
Mafi’s recovery from injury, his devastating form at last year’s World Cup and his recent marriage reads like a fairy tale. The 26-year-old arriving in England with his new bride was just a continuation of that amazing story. “First time I thought it was a castle,” he said when asked about Bath’s HQ. Though just like Kensuke Hatakeyama, who is currently plying his trade for Newcastle, the English weather gave him something of a reality check.
“Everyone saw Amanaki Mafi’s debut, he was sensational,” said Bath coach Mike Ford. “He was phenomenal. He made 19 carries. I can’t remember the last player for Bath who made that many in a game, I don’t think anyone’s done it in my time.”
So, not a bad debut for the 26-year-old who has a simple rugby philosophy. “I like rugby,” he said. “Give me the ball and I run, that’s all.”
Ford, however, sees a lot more to Mafi, noting “the way he retained the possession in the ruck, and gave us good clean ball, and the way he defended as well, and did some impact tackles. He has a bit of rugby awareness about him, he’s not just a guy who just runs at the nearest defender, he’s got a merry side step and he is good to watch,” Ford said.
While it’s still early days, there is a possibility that Mafi will decide to extend his contract beyond this season. “There’s an option there,” said Ford. “The deal was just until the end of the season, and then 4 or 5 weeks into that we sit down and talk about the future. But that’s an option.”
Mafi also admitted it was a possibility. “Maybe. I decided I was definitely going back (to Japan) before I even came here,” he said. “Now I am a little torn.