One taste of Sevens and Desmond's hooked
Among the bleary-eyed stragglers winding their way through Chek Lap Kok today following a hedonistic weekend at the Hong Kong Sevens, will be a diminutive Samoan teenager whose eyes have been opened and whose life has been changed by the sevens experience.
Nineteen-year-old Desmond Fa'aiuaso arrived in the SAR better known as a soccer star - a striker for both the Olympic and national teams. He leaves with the rest of the Samoan sevens squad bound for this weekend's Singapore tournament determined to dedicate his playing days to rugby.
'This was my first time in a tournament, with thousands of eyes. But I wasn't scared of that. I felt confident and I felt strong. The first time I walked out in the Hong Kong Stadium was when I made the decision to stick with rugby,' he revealed. 'I hope I'll be coming back here every year. That's what I'll be trying to do. From now on I only want to play rugby.'
Fa'aiuaso fervour for the oval-ball game was fuelled further by a resoundingly successful tournament. He took to the switch from striker to scrumhalf with aplomb, leaving Hong Kong as Samoa's top try scorer, crossing the line three times against Chinese Taipei, once against Namibia and, most memorably bamboozling the New Zealand defence with his agility to score direct from a tap penalty in the quarter-finals.
'I'm very happy to have scored against New Zealand. I feel good in my heart,' he said. 'They'll be very proud back home.' The folks back home are the reason that Fa'aiuaso found himself representing Samoa. 'We have a tournament in Samoa, the Marist Sevens, and I was asked to play for my village, Lepoa. My uncle and the rest of the family told me I should play,' the teenager explained.
'We have an arc-shaped house just by the road on the edge of the village. There are maybe 500 in our village and they're lovely people, mostly farmers. We qualified for the Bowl final and from that they selected me for the national under-21 team's 15-a-side trials and then the trials for this team.
'They were all so happy that I played for them and even happier that I became the first person from our village to play for the Samoan sevens team. I'm a bigger hero for playing sevens than for soccer.'
He's also playing to a far bigger crowd. Fa'aiuaso admits, with a certain amount of awe, that the 40,000 lunatics partying their way through the Sevens weekend was the largest audience he'd ever performed in front of.
'My biggest football games were in the 2001 OFC Nations Cup in Samoa in 2001. I didn't count the crowd but maybe only a thousand people were there,' he said. Most recently he was performing for Samoa in January's Oceania Olympic qualifying tournament in Sydney where his country finished a respectable third.
However, he's determined to switch sports permanently and return to the game he originally started with, although he won't turn his back on the round ball game entirely.
'As a child I only played rugby until I changed to soccer when I was nine years old, because in soccer you don't get hurt. From then I just played soccer and was in all the Samoan national youth teams. I think I'll still play soccer for my village.'