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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton Rugby player only Utahn selected for USA youth rugby team

May 09, 2024 02:14PM ● By Jerry S. Christensen

Siale Ofa, a senior at Brighton High School, scans the field in a match against Mountain View on March 9. The Brighton Rugby boys captain was selected for the USA Rugby u18 team. He has been selected again for team this summer. (Photo Christine Yee)

Thirteen U.S. high school rugby boys sat in a classroom in New Zealand’s King College, awaiting the rugby tradition of presenting jerseys the night before a big tournament. Each of the athletes had this dozens of times before, but this one was different. This one came with more pressure. This white jersey with the USA Rugby patch on the chest was heavier than any they had ever worn. They had played for their families, their clubs, their high schools. This time, they were playing for their country. 

Brighton High senior Siale Ofa was the only player from Utah to be selected for the USA Rugby under-18 team to play in the Global Youth Sevens tournament in December. He was recently selected again for the next USA Rugby u18 summer tour to either South Africa or Amsterdam.

Ofa represented the USA, the state of Utah and the Brighton community. He grew up in Cottonwood Heights not far from the recreation center, but in the seventh grade, he moved to Glendale to help take care of his ailing grandparents but continued to attend school at Butler Middle School and Brighton High playing football and rugby.

Few knew of Ofa’s selection to the national team. He did not tell people, which is not entirely surprising. Some would call him reserved. He tends to lean more on the quiet side. His football coach Casey Sutera said, “Ofa doesn’t say a lot so when he does, it’s usually important and people listen.”

His selection to the USA Rugby u18 team was a big deal for his Brighton teammates. “Siale sets a great example of what we can do with this sport if we use it as an opportunity and make the best out of it,” said Brighton sophomore Sofele Hansen. “On and off the field, Siale leads his team, family and friends by example.” 

Playing for USA Rugby was a huge departure from the norm. International play is no cake walk. 

The first USA game in the tournament was against a New Zealand team called the Asian Dragons. “We got dominated,” Ofa said. In the 38-19 loss, a Dragons center saw a gap in the defensive line and ran about 80 meters—nearly the whole length of the field—to score. He did a “mana wave,” the NZ equivalent of a shaka sign. Then Ofa recalled him saying, “Welcome to New Zealand, [epithet]!” 

“At that moment I wanted to just get off the field,” he said. “I called home to talk to my dad that night. I asked him what I could do better.” Ofa has always played for his father, Vea, who started the Brighton Rugby Club in 2015. His dad advised that he had to be more strategic and responsive to play better with people he had just met. The adjustments had to be quick. 

In the USA versus Pakuranga match, the last of pool play, Ofa put everything he had learned on display. He made fixes in how he played but also paid attention to how others on his team played and adjusted to their strengths and weaknesses. Ofa scored twice in the 43-5 USA win. His score off of a quick lineout—a throw-in after the ball goes out of bounds—was posted on various rugby sites including Rugby 7s magazine and USA Rugby’s Instagram page to thousands of replays. USA finished in sixth place in the international tournament.  

But Ofa didn’t have time to be prideful. Rugby doesn’t stop the world from turning. Days later, he was back in a classroom at Brighton, tackling lots of catch-up work and preparing for the high school rugby club season. 

Ofa anchors the Brighton boys rugby team which wraps up its season in May. 

Two other Brighton alumni—Sione Ofa and Mana Nonu—are playing at St. Mary’s in California. They are undefeated this spring, recently beating BYU and Cal. λ