How rugby helped Youth Unstoppable Téani on her journey from Futuna to Grenoble, via New Zealand

Youth Unstoppable Téani grew up on the Pacific island of Futuna, went to school in Napier and is now forging an exciting playing career with FC Grenoble Amazones in France.

Rugby has played an important role in Téani’s young life, giving her the skills to travel the world and live out her dreams.

It helped her overcome the language barrier when she moved to New Zealand for school and has since facilitated a move back to mainland France, where she plays alongside sister Manaé for FC Grenoble Amazones.

But, growing up on the Pacific island of Futuna, Téani was initially more interested in dance and karate than rugby.

“When I was little, for me rugby was what my father did,” she told World Rugby. “At first I wasn't too keen on the sport.”

Téani’s parents are both PE teachers, who had moved from the town of Mâcon to Futuna with their young family when she was just three weeks old.

Unsurprisingly, sport was important to them and Téani would follow her father down to rugby training. One day, while at primary school, she decided to give the game a go herself.

“I tried it and I was immediately hooked,” she said.

“Why did I get hooked? Honestly, I have no idea. I'm free to express myself as I want in rugby, I had more fun, I let off more steam.

“As soon as I started rugby, I knew it was the sport I wanted to do. I was going to enjoy it.

“At the beginning, the French teams were not my goal. My goal was simply to play good rugby and to enjoy myself.”

Discovering a different rugby

Both of Téani’s older siblings, brother Niue and Manaé had attended boarding school in New Zealand and when she was 14 their sister followed in their footsteps.

Making the 2,845km journey across the Pacific Ocean from Futuna to Napier was not easy but rugby provided Téani with an opportunity to assimilate and make friends.

“I wasn't always with my parents, I was often alone, like in high school. I know that I can manage on my own and that thanks to rugby I can integrate,” she said.

“Leaving after Year 10 is not very easy, you find yourself in a boarding school in an unknown country where they don't speak the same language as you.

“It was a bit hard, but in the end I don't regret it. I didn't take it as a sacrifice, but as an opportunity. I'm a fairly positive person. 

“My parents are still in Futuna, my little sister (Assia) still lives with them. They are always worried about being away from us and we are away from them. 

“It's hard, but when we get together it's always good.”

Téani had grown up playing sevens in Futuna, so moving to Napier also brought her into contact with the 15s game for the first time.

“When I went to New Zealand, I discovered a different kind of rugby,” she said.

“I also discovered a different way of playing rugby. New Zealand is a bit of a rugby icon, it’s cool to see how others have taken up rugby, how they train.

“It helped, but I was already very motivated, I already liked rugby a lot before I came to New Zealand.

“My parents never taught in New Zealand. It was my brother who first went for his high school, he stayed in a boarding school.

“The next year my sister did the same thing and when I finished secondary school I wanted to do the same. For me, [learning] English and rugby went together.”

Sister act

Her experience in New Zealand has helped shape Téani into the player she is today. In 2019, when only 16, she participated in the French U18 sevens championship as an overseas player.

Téani’s performances were good enough to earn her selection for a tournament showcasing the 100 best French players in that category the following year.

It was during that competition that she was spotted by the Amazones and offered the chance to play alongside Manaé.

“We are in the Elite championship,” Téani said. “Last year, we were already a very young team and there was a new dynamic, I was immediately well integrated because there was a good atmosphere.

“I am very happy to have joined this team. I play with my sister, in the same team. We always wanted to play together, but we could never play together because we were not in the same grades.

“But, before I came to France, we said we wanted to play in the same club. We know each other well, we know how each other plays, it's easy to anticipate what each other is going to do. We like it.”

Last November, two months after her sister had joined her in Grenoble, Manaé won her first test cap for France as a replacement against England at Stade des Alpes.

Téani, meanwhile, gained valuable experience as part of an expanded France squad that took part in the Dubai Invitational Sevens in April.

Rubbing shoulders with players who would go on to win a silver medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games clearly left an impression on the young centre.

“I played with all the girls in the French team. For me, they are examples,” Téani said.

“They give everything for rugby and I think that's beautiful. My ultimate goal is to be able to join the French team one day.

“Whether it's sevens or 15s, I enjoy it just as much, I don't have a preference.”

As a Youth Unstoppable, Téani is proving to be a role model herself, so what words of encouragement would she give to young women and girls who want to pick up a rugby ball?

“In rugby, you can express yourself as much as you want,” she said.

“When you play, there are no limits, that's the beauty of rugby. You also know that the people you play rugby with will always be there for you.”

Téani was brought up on the island of Futuna in the Pacific Ocean, where her parents had moved with their young family when she was only three weeks old.

Both of Téani’s parents are physical education teachers and she was introduced to rugby by her father, who played for a local team on the island.

It was while she was at primary school that she decided to give the game a go herself, and became “immediately hooked”.

When she was 14, Téani followed in the footsteps of her brother Niue and sister Manaé and moved to New Zealand to attend a boarding school in Napier.

Two years later, during a vacation to France, she played in the national U18 sevens championship and impressed so much that she earned an invitation to play at a tournament for the 100 best French players in that category the following year.

It was during that latter tournament that she caught the attention of FC Grenobles Amazones, where she currently plays alongside her sister Manaé.

Now 18, Téani has since been called up by the France women’s sevens squad and represented her country at a tournament in Dubai in April.

 

 

Last updated: Nov 17, 2021, 7:03:17 AM
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