'It's all in the genes' - says Taione
By Neale Harvey
Tongan Test star Elvis Taione puts his remarkable longevity down to Pacific Island genes, sleep and a life-changing decision to swap work on a building site for rugby.
With a new contract at Exeter secured, Taione turns 37 this month but shows no sign of battle fatigue as he maintains the pressure on England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Ten years ago, Taione was labouring in Sydney whilst playing for the Manly Marlins before a final go at breaking into the professional game preceded a move abroad.
Currently the Premiership’s second oldest player behind London Irish’s Franco van der Merwe and in his sixth season at Chiefs, Taione told The Rugby Paper: “I did a bit of rugby at school in New Zealand but had some bad injuries and lost my passion for the game.
“I thought that was that, but after moving to Australia in my early 20s some mates persuaded me to join the Manly Marlins, just to play club rugby and have fun.
“I was just hanging out with friends, doing odd jobs here and there on building sites and the like and I never had any thoughts of playing professionally. But I’m not one for doing things half-heartedly so I started training really hard and got a crack at the Waratahs.
“There was a lot of competition there with guys like Tatafu Polota-Nau so I went to Western Force and had a few games there, but nothing really much happened. Then I got a chance with Tonga in 2012 on their tour of Europe and that’s when things really changed.”
Taione explained: “We came over and played Italy, USA and Scotland and after that I decided I wanted to travel and spend time in Europe. Originally, I was looking to go to France, but Jersey came in for me and I spent a season there, which was a great experience.
“After that, I was picked up by Exeter and felt at home there straight away. Six years later I’m still here and, while I’ve been happy to bide my time, when guys like Cowan-Dickie and Jack Yeandle are not around I make sure I’m always ready to step in and do well.
“The coaches expect everybody to step up and do the job when required and this season, with Dickie being away with England and ‘Yenz’ injured, I’ve played a lot of games. We’re playing really well and I’m really happy with the contract, so things are going well.”
Does being a late developer help? “I think it does and age is just a number really,” says Taione. “I know my body and what works for me. I’m a long sleeper which helps recovery, plus those Pacific Island genes probably contribute to how long I can play for as well.
“If you look at other Tongan guys like Ma’ama Molitika, Aleki Lutui and Soane Tonga’uiha – guys I know well – they’ve all enjoyed long careers and I’m hoping for the same, although I’m not sure I’ll make to through to 45 like Ma’ama did before he retired!”
One thing Taione is utterly convinced of is that Cowan-Dickie is close to usurping Jamie George as England’s No.1 and earning a place on next year’s Lions tour.
He added: “The sky’s the limit for Dickie now and he’s close to being England’s first choice. I honestly think he’s just a game or two away from it. He’s got that presence as a leader so the coach just needs to believe in him – after that he’ll be certain for the Lions.”