Shoe-horned behind the experienced duo of Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau in the pecking order, it is a testament to the enthusiasm that SAIA FAINGA’A brings to his work that he has still managed to accumulate more than 20 Test appearances.
Although not many of those have been starting roles, the 26-year-old has seldom let his country down when called on to perform.
This was again the case in the June Test series, as Fainga’a was named in Australia’s squad to face the British & Irish Lions and eventually called from the bench as a replacement for Stephen Moore in the third Test.
While he lacks the size and power of Moore and Polota Nau, Fainga’a provides a high work rate around the field, and is absolutely fearless in his approach to defensive duties. A twin, Saia is one half of a double act which has graced the Qantas Wallabies for the last three seasons, alongside his brother – Wallabies outside centre Anthony Fainga’a. The pair, who saddled up in tandem for the Qantas Wallabies for the first time four seasons ago; in 2011 became just the third set of twins to attend the Rugby World Cup - following on from Gary and Alan Whetton (New Zealand – 1987) and Marcello and Massimo Cuttitta (Italy – 1991). Saia appeared twice at that tournament, having featured earlier that year in three of the four Tests played as Australia claimed its first Tri Nations title for a decade.
The Tri Nations victory completed a notable season-double for Fainga’a, who had shared in the Queensland Reds’ ground-breaking Super Rugby title earlier that year. Success at Test level and in Super Rugby represented the ultimate reward for the brave move made by the brothers, when they shifted camp from the Brumbies to the Reds in 2009. The pair were lured north by their former national Under-19 mentor – the then Reds coach Phil Mooney – after having struggled for playing opportunities in their native Canberra.
With the former Red, Moore, heading the other way, Saia was able to establish himself as Queensland’s first choice hooker three years ago, heading off the competition of the long-serving Sean Hardman. In cementing his position with the Reds, Fainga’a was able to surpass 50 competition appearances (27 of which came with the Brumbies), while also attracting the attention of the national selectors.
He shared, along with Anthony, the honour of becoming just the third set of twins to play for Australia following on from Stan and Jim Boyce and Mark and Glen Ella. That milestone was achieved when Anthony came off the bench to play his first Test during the Tri Nations loss to the All Blacks in Melbourne. Saia’s fifth start was earned a week later in the return match against the All Blacks in Christchurch on what was a significant night – both for the Fainga’a family, but also for all Indigenous Australians. Not only did the two brothers start alongside each other in a Test for the first time, the pair were two of a record four Indigenous players who featured in the Australian match night squad, with the others being fullback Kurtley Beale and replacement loose forward Matt Hodgson.
The Fainga’a brothers are the 40th set of brothers to appear for Australia, with their promise marked early: Saia captained the Australian team - which included Anthony - that won the last world Under-19 Championship in the United Arab Emirates in 2006. Saia had earlier been a junior representative in rugby league until he switched to Rugby while attending Canberra’s prestigious St Edmund’s College, twice making the Australian Schools team in 2003 and 2004.
The boys have a younger brother, Colby, who is into his fourth season on the openside flank for the Brumbies, and two years ago captained the Australian Under-20 side at the age-group World Cup.
FAST FACT: As well as captaining Australia to success in the 2006 World Under-19 Championships, Saia Fainga’a also made his Super Rugby debut that year in South Africa. He was 20 years old at the time. Twin brother Anthony made his Super Rugby debut a year later, aged 21, with the pair being out-done by their younger brother Colby, who made his debut off the bench for the Brumbies three years ago as an 18-year-old.