The LA Giltinis found themselves without a flyhalf against the Austin Gilgronis on March 5, 2021, after Luke Burton was injured in the warmups. Their 42-year-old Assistant Backs and Skills Coach, Orene Ai’i, turned back the clock and kicked three penalty goals for the Giltinis to take a 9-0 lead into the half and would play 65 minutes before being replaced by Tas Smith. Although the team would not win the match, Orene showed he still has the skills and entered the MLR record book as the oldest player to play in a league match.
The last time that he played may have been in 2017 for Fresno RFC with his cousin Rodney Tusiavalado. After moving to Sacramento, California, he played with Life West, helping the team win the USA Men’s DII National Championship in 2015 before joining the San Francisco Rush in 2016.
I had the pleasure of meeting Orene after the Ohio Aviators played San Francisco Rush. PRO Rugby had Rush some players arriving on red-eye flights with some arriving just a few hours before the match. Needless to say, it was not a good result for the Rush. Socializing after matches is among rugby’s best traditions.
Orene was born in Apia, Upolu, Samoa, and later migrated to New Zealand where he attended Otahuhu College in Auckland. He played for the New Zealand U19s in 1995, the New Zealand Secondary Schools in 1997, the New Zealand U19s again in 1998 and 1999, and the New Zealand Colts from 1998 to 1999. He also played for Samoa at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Orene, a flyhalf/fullback is not tall in stature at 5’7″ and is 180 lbs. Good thing that his stature is not a limiting factor in rugby where his skills have been impressive over the years.
From 1998 through 2004 he played with Auckland, making 47 appearances, and was called up at age 19 to play Super Rugby with the Hurricanes, making two appearances. He then played Super Rugby with the Blues from 2000-2004 (31 matches) and won the 2003 Super Rugby Championship.
Orene also played rugby sevens for New Zealand and for the 2004-2005 season was named the IRB World Sevens Series Player of the Year. He went on to play in 75 matches, scoring 653 points, with 57 tries and 184 conversions.
He traveled to Japan to play with. the Toyota Verblitz from 2005 to 2007, and played with Toulon 41 times from 2008 to 2009. He returned to the Toyota Verblitz between 2009 and 2012, before returning to New Zealand in 2012 to play with the Blues (twice) and Northland in the ITM Cup (8 matches). From 2013 to 2014 he played again with Auckland (twice) and also in the Premier Club rugby with the College Rifles. In 2015 he also played for the Classic All Blacks against Toulon.
He also played at the GFI HKFC Tens in 2013 for the BGC APB All Stars.
After moving to the U.S. in 2015, he played with Life West, San Francisco Rush, and Fresno RFC. He also coached Granite Bay in Sacramento, as well as Rhinos Rugby Academy – Sacramento, and Stars Rugby 7s in tours to Australia, Tobago, and the U.S. He has been developing U.S. youth talent through his coaching. throughout California, and recently in the LA area.