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By: Mark Janzen
Tiana A’au had to set the record straight about something her twin sister, Tiara, had just said.
She took a hushed voice of sincerity.
“Okay. Tiara is being a little dramatic. It was like, 4 a.m.”
A few minutes before, Tiana, who is the younger of the 19-year-old twin props, had suggested the early-morning workouts their father had put them through as youngsters started at 3 a.m.
Tiara corrected the error.
“It wasn’t that crazy.”
Well, perhaps that final line is still up for debate, but the facts remain startlingly impressive. By the time Tiana and Tiara were in Grade 3 and still six years away from enrolling at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, their dad, Tia A’au, was running them through a disciplined training regime at the local track. On the football field, they did suicides.
With his work schedule, the 4 a.m. wakeup calls were the best time to get the family together – the twins’ two older sisters Naomi and Sui also attended – and train.
“Oh…I hated it,” says Tiana, suggesting her dad was just aiming to keep his daughters in healthy physical shape. “But it’s worth it now.”
Twin even as far as their vernacular is concerned, Tiara agreed. “I hated it. But as we were going, I started getting used to it and then I started liking it.”
Photo: Michael Schroeder
By the time two duo arrived at Jefferson, their pre-sunrise training efforts started to appear worthwhile. Then, when Central Washington University’s women’s rugby program came calling, Tia’s training program was proving to be a grand success.
“We didn’t know why (he did it), but now we know why,” Tiara says.
On Tuesday, in the USA’s final game at the U20 Tri-Nations Cup in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Tiana and Tiara slotted in as the All-Americans starting props against England (Sui picked up a knock in USA’s game against Canada, ruling her out of the starting lineup). It was a moment the twins won’t soon forget.
And while the scoreline saw the English side earn a 43-17 victory, it was also a moment that could well mark the start of something special for both the A’au family and USA Rugby.
Following in the footsteps of their two older sisters, Tiara and Tiana found their way to the rugby pitch in their freshmen year at Jefferson. Rugby seemed to be a game built specifically for the A’au twins. The pair of like-sized props with surprising quickness had found their home.
“I loved rugby because it was such an aggressive sport,” Tiara says. “All my life I was playing different sports and they weren’t fitting me right until I found rugby. I didn’t know nothing about rugby. I was like, ‘What is rugby?’ Then, when my sisters played, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to try this.’
“It was love at first sight.”
As these sorts of things most often go with twins, Tiana had the same reaction. It was a sport that encompassed their physicality, their speed and their family.
“I love it because I’m never alone on the field,” Tiana says. “I have my family beside me. Of course the other girls are my family too, but with my blood relatives with me, (it’s special).”
On Nov. 18, 2016, Tiara and Tiana were still in their final year of high school – one that would eventually see them win the state championship while playing with Grant Generals Eastside Rugby – and still nearly a season away from joining Sui in Ellensburg, Washington at CWU. Yet, in that moment, the twins were already rising stars within Oregon’s rugby scene. On that particular Friday in mid-November, Tiara posted a one-minute highlight reel on Instagram of her best hits, runs and fends. If you haven’t seen her play live, this might be all you need to experience the twins’ rugby story. In most cases, the opposition was mere pylons to be pushed, pulled or stepped around.
Skip to Tiara’s Facebook page and it’s littered with Tiana’s wrestling exploits, which culminated in an Oregon state championship in her Grade 12 year.
Both are impressive. Both are imposing.
“They’re physical and they don’t take a step back (to anyone) and they have an exciting future ahead of them,” says James English, who is coaching USA Rugby’s Junior All-Americans side in Wolfville. “They really are the life and soul of the team and a form of constant entertainment for the team. They have big personalities and that personality translates onto the field as big, powerful props. All three sisters are very similar in their non-compromising character attitude on the field and they all have huge potential.”
Photo: Michael Schroeder
When the USA women’s national team came together this past July for a high performance training camp in Chula Vista, Calif., both Tiana and Sui were there, vying for positions under the newly-hired Eagles head coach Rob Cain. It was yet another step in the A’au’s meteoric rise as a rugby family. Tiara was shelved for the past few weeks with a concussion.
Given their early success and their long-instilled training discipline, you get the feeling the trio is well on their way to one day earning senior caps.
But before the excitement train heads too far down the track of possibility, there will be more work to be done alongside Tia.
When asked if they have hobbies outside of rugby, Tiara laughs.
“We literally just workout without with our dad,” she says. “That’s all we do.” She laughs again.
"And is that still the case, even while at Central Washing....?"
The question is interrupted.
“Mm-hmm,” Tiara says. “Ain't nothing going to change about that.”
Now, years removed from their elementary school days when two-mile runs at 4 a.m. were just part of the script, there’s fruit on the vines.
“I would never be here if it wasn’t for all that hard training with my dad,” Tiana admits.
And, when all three return to Portland from Nova Scotia, Tia will be waiting.
And furthermore, with the twins’ sophomore season and Sui’s junior year on the horizon, and tantalizing thoughts of the 2021 World Cup occasionally dancing in their dreams, they’ll be eager to join him.