Atalifo fired up after winning debut
Tighthead Lee-Roy Atalifo has had an unconventional path into rugby, going from Fijian firefighter to Scotland's capital city - via Jersey - but the tighthead relished the latest stop on his rugby journey as he made his Edinburgh Rugby debut in Monday night's win over Cardiff Blues.
The 13-times capped Fijian internationalist started in the 18-0 win over Conference rivals Cardiff, where Atalifo was able to get himself on the scoresheet, crashing over the line from close range for the capital side's first try of the evening.
And although the Fijian admitted that it wasn’t a score for the ages, he was more than happy to help his new side secure their first home win of the 2020-21 season.
“The try was a nice bonus, it was just about doing my job," said Atalifo. "It's the only time a big guy like me is going to get a try, so all I was thinking about was trying to get over the line!”
Growing up, gritty goal line drives and set piece strikes were the last thing on Atalifo's mind. His path to rugby came about as a means to stay fit for his day job, working as a firefighter with Fiji’s National Fire Authority.
“When I was in school they tried to make me play rugby, but I wasn’t really interested at the time, and I wasn’t really that good!
“The firefighting really pushed me into it, because you have to get fit, so I started playing rugby to get fit.
“When I was working as a firefighter, we had a lot of spare time, so we had a rugby team for guys to get involved in sports and improve our fitness.
“I only played to keep myself fit, but then things went well and my rugby career started from there. Once you start enjoying it, you take the opportunities that come, and I’m here now!”
Atalifo joined the club this past summer and while the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have made the move less than ideal, both he and his family have been settling in nicely to new surroundings in Scotland's capital.
“It’s a much bigger place than Jersey for my family, but we’re enjoying it, taking it step by step.
“One of the good things has been the number of Fijian boys here, they’ve really helped me - but really the whole team has helped me fit in really well.”
Having won 13 caps for Fiji - where he featured four times at the 2015 Rugby World Cup - Atalifo has experience at the highest level, while the tighthead has played club rugby in Italy, New Zealand, and most recently in Jersey in the RFU Championship.
“It’s always different going from club to club, and you can bring knowledge from the other teams you have played in.
“The Fiji caps help me be more composed, but sometimes it’s just about adapting to how the new club plays their rugby.”
Atalifo has had to bide his time and wait for his first appearance for the capital club. The strong work of Edinburgh’s pack has been noticeable in recent weeks, however the challenge of coming into that environment is one that the prop is enjoying, and he was able to cap his first appearance for the side with an important win.
“It was massive. We’ve lost a lot of players to internationals, which has given me the opportunity to step up in the absence of some quality players. It was a long time coming, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity.
“There’s pressure coming into the pack, but it’s also a good challenge. There are a lot of players who are performing well, so you know you have to fill their shoes.
“I want to show how much I want to be there. I was really nervous before the game, it was tough but I enjoyed it.”
Next up for Edinburgh is a trip to reigning PRO14 Champions Leinster, and they pose a challenge that Atalifo is looking forward to.
“We know they have been unbeaten for a while, and they’ll be strong, but it will be a good test for us. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”