Alatini Saulala, a native of Vava’u, Tonga, is the definition of a rugby warrior. As one of the few international rugby players to be selected to represent more than one national team during his career, his resume speaks for itself. From the time he began playing rugby in his youth to his presence on the international stage, he is known throughout the rugby world for his skill and his unwavering values and integrity.
“Tongan by birth, he represents the best of what his ancestors would consider a true warrior. As dedicated and destructive as he was on the rugby field, he was the epitome of humility and gentleness off of it. A man of faith and family, he is kind, generous, and committed. His passion for rugby and others was always bigger than himself. His mark on the game goes beyond the US National Team,” said former teammate and friend, Brian Hightower.
Alatini moved stateside to San Diego, California where he served as a Mormon missionary. After completing his mission, he attended Ricks College, now known as BYU, Idaho, where he played football. After suffering a leg injury from football, he returned to his roots on the rugby pitch. In 1994, he moved to San Mateo, California and teamed up with fellow Hall of Famer, Vaea Anitoni, and co-founded the San Mateo Rugby Club. As a founder, player and head coach of San Mateo Rugby Club, Saulala helped the club win two 15s and 7s National Championships along with the CanAm Tournament. In 1997 there were five USA 7s players selected from San Mateo.
On the international stage, Saulala shined for the Tonga National Rugby team from 1990 to 1991. With Tonga, he played in three tours and appeared in 16 total test matches over a span of three years. He continued his illustrious career with the US Rugby National Team from 1997 to 2000. As a center for Eagle 15s, he played in 20 games, including the 1999 Rugby World Cup, and earned 16 caps. For the Eagles 7s, he earned 12 caps. Most notably he played in the Hong Kong Sevens in 1998 and 1999. In the 1999 Hong Kong Sevens, he led the tournament in tries.
From the sidelines, Saulala has coached for a variety of clubs across the Northern California Bay Area region including: San Mateo Rugby Club, Cal State Monterey College Rugby Club, South Valley Rugby Men’s Club, Morgan Hill Rugby High School Club, Nor-Cal Pelicans 7s, United Rugby Youth Rugby, East Palo Alto Bulldogs Men’s Rugby, and Google Rugby.
“Alatini carried on his professionalism giving back to the game of rugby after he retired. He continued coaching clubs and youth leagues at their local area. I admire his love for the game and skills, looking up to him as a great role model. While coaching, he is a family man at the same time and is very much involved in his kids’ sports as a father and a coach,” said Anitoni.
He currently serves as the head varsity coach for Peninsula Green High School Rugby Club and remains very involved in the rugby community.