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LET US PRAY; RUGBY: HEINEKEN CUP: SCARLETS V LEICESTER, SATURDAY 5.45PM.

Byline: PAUL JONES

THEY cannot say his name but Jonny Fa'amatuainu will be on every Scarlets fan's lips if he helps them cage Leicester Tigers next week.

The big Samoan back row forward scored the crucial try from off the bench against Treviso last month to give his side a priceless Heineken Cup bonus point.

That score could prove critical as the Scarlets bid to protect their twopoint lead at the top of Pool Five.

It also secured Fa'amatuainu cult status among Scarlets supporters who had already learned to enjoy his eye-catching one-handed charges and flipped passes trademarked by new All Blacks sensation Sonny Bill Williams.

But those skills would never have been seen on a rugby field - let alone in Llanelli - if the man they call 'Jonny F' had not given up his first love, basketball, in order to earn a crust with a rugby ball at 19.

The 27-year-old, who is on a season's loan from Bath, grew up in Auckland and admits: "I played basketball back in high school in New Zealand. That was my sport.

"I played at age-group level at under 16s and 18s for New Zealand and then at under 20s for Samoa.

"I only started playing rugby in 2002 because basketball was my main sport. I still play basketball and I've tried to bring those skills into rugby.

"I had a coach back home in Auckland, Jeff Moon, who told me that there was no money in basketball. I asked him where the money was and he said rugby.

"He said come and play for the first XV at college so that's what I did. I made the Samoa sevens squad and started travelling around the world for two years.

"Once I made the sevens squad I really enjoyed the travelling and meeting people. But I still play basketball, just to take my mind off rugby."

Fa'amatuainu's travels took him to Bath where the Samoan international scored 15 tries in 98 matches.

But the arrival from Leicester of Lewis Moody prompted the switch to the Scarlets last summer.

"I wanted a new challenge. At Bath they had signed a few new back rowers, including the England captain. I didn't want to sit round not playing, so I took up the challenge to come to the Scarlets.

"The boys immediately felt like brothers to me - like old family. They welcomed me with open arms. I've felt really at home."

They may have put an arm around his shoulder, but they cannot get their tongue around his name which is pronounced Fa-ama-tu-a-oo. All except, it seems, for the former Wales skipper.

"Stephen Jones is awesome. He's the only one who can say it properly. The others have a good crack at it, but most of them stick to Jonny F."

The Tigers thumped Scarlets 46-10 in October but Christian Jonny F has his own way of preparing for matches.

He said: "I'll prepare the same way I always do. I sit and listen to my Christian music.

"Before we go out, I pray and that's me ready. I don't know how the other boys react because I'm too busy doing my own thing."

CAPTION(S):

MOODY BLUE: Lewis JON WHO? Fa'amatuainu's name may not be chanted by the fans!
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 9, 2011
Words:544
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