- 693Wallaby Number
Willie Ofahengaue, affectionately known as ‘Willie O’, was one of the most punishing back-rowers in world rugby. The first Tongan born Wallaby, Ofahengaue was noted for his immense physical power however that belied a quiet man with strong Christian values.
Born and raised in Tonga, Ofahengaue attended Tupou College before his parents sent him to stay with relatives in Auckland to complete his education at the Seddon High School. Not surprisingly he made a big impression in schoolboy rugby and in 1989 was rewarded with selection for New Zealand Schools and a tour of Australia. However, Ofahengaue was not allowed back into New Zealand due to visa issues.
After being left at the airport by team officials he remained in Sydney and stayed with a cousin in the northern Sydney beachside suburb of Manly. After the Wallabies were physically intimidated by the British Lions the Wallaby selectors introduced new blood into the squad during the 1990 season. When Queensland flanker Jeff Miller was ruled out of the tour to New Zealand tour with an injury Ofahengaue, who had yet to play a provincial match in Australia, was named as his replacement. A strong performance against the might of Auckland - including bone-jarring tackles on both Ant Strachan and Bernie McCahiil - saw him picked to make his Test debut in Christchurch.
The following season Ofahengaue terrorised England with a stunning two-try performance in Australia's crushing 40-15 triumph in Sydney. Later that same year Ofahengaue was selected in the Wallabies Rugby World Cup squad where he played a crucial role in the final’s defining moment. Following a magnificent piece of individual play from Tim Horan, Australia had a lineout throw two metres short of the English tryline. England were caught napping when, for the first time in the tournament, Kearns threw to Ofahengaue at No.5. The defence was not prepared for a driving maul at that point of the lineout. Tony Daly peeled around the outside and with Ewen McKenzie at his shoulder the two props crashed over the line for the lone try and the decisive score of the final.
Upon his return from that year’s Rugby World Cup, Ofahengaue was approached by the St George Rugby League Club to switch codes. He did sign a contract however the Australian Rugby Union managed to talk him out of his decision. As a sweetener the ARU organised for Ofahengaue to have a short off-season stint with Rovigo in Italy. That sojourn proved to be a cruel turning point in Ofahengaue’s career after he suffered a knee injury which then hampered him for the remainder of his career.
Ofahengaue played 41 Tests for Australia in his eight-year international career.
Ofahengaue won his first Test cap as the starting blindside flanker in the 1st Test, 6-21 loss to New Zealand in Christchurch. He was capped in the two final matches of that series and scored his first Test try in the 2nd Test, 17-27 defeat at Eden Park.
He started in nine of the Wallabies 10 Tests, twice at No.8, and was selected to his first Rugby World Cup.
Ofahengaue earned five caps, all at blindside flanker, against Scotland (2), South Africa, Ireland and Wales. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
Represented Australia at the Sevens Rugby World Cup in Edinburgh. Ofahengaue then missed the entire international season after he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee while playing club rugby in Italy and underwent a complete knee reconstruction.
He picked up caps as the starting No.6 in the final two Tests of the year, against Samoa and New Zealand.
Ofahengaue played in seven Tests and was selected to his second Rugby World Cup.
He missed selection for the domestic Tests and the Tri Nations but returned for the end-of-season tour to the northern hemisphere and played all four matches, Argentina (2), England and Scotland.
In his final season of Test rugby, Ofahengaue won a career high 11 caps, predominantly as a replacement No.8.