OSAKA, 12 Oct – Sitiveni "Steve" Mafi came into Rugby World Cup 2019 as one of Tonga’s best-known, most experienced players. He will leave having played for only 15 minutes after four different injuries.
"Just one after another," Mafi, pictured above during his brief moment in action, said on Saturday as he watched his teammates head off in the pouring rain for an indoor training session ahead of their last group match against the USA in Hanazono on Sunday.
The tale of woe for the 29-year-old forward, one of only six players in the original 31-man squad with more than 30 caps, began when his foot was trodden on during the Pacific Nations Cup in August.
Having recovered from that, he had shoulder trouble in the build-up to the opening match against England in Sapporo and after thinking it might not keep him out, a cut on his knee became infected and he was not risked.
A week later former Leicester Tiger Mafi, who is bound for London Irish after departing French side Castres, did come on as a 65th-minute replacement against Argentina, only to go down with a groin strain before the France game.
That injury failed to recover in time for this weekend, so his second World Cup will not provide the same memories as the first. He played in three of the Pacific Islanders' four games in England.
Before he links up with his teammates at newly promoted London Irish, Mafi has to get himself a visa, so with that and his injury it remains to be seen when his debut will be for a club whose other signings include Australian internationals Nick Phipps, Sekope Kepu and Adam Coleman, New Zealand’s Waisake Naholo and Ireland’s Sean O’Brien and Paddy Jackson.
Mafi spoke at the start of RWC 2019 of what he was hoping to bring.
"In your first World Cup you don't know what to expect," he said. "But now I am one of the senior players and I can pass on my experience."
That he has still done, but he would have preferred to have given the team more of a helping hand on the pitch.