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Charlie’s Angel: I always knew she was the one

How his soulmate made the big guy cry!

On the eve of his wife Rachelle’s 30th birthday party, All Black Charlie Faumuina was looking forward to stepping back from the spotlight.

Still on cloud nine after our Rugby World Cup triumph, the burly, bearded 29-year-old Blues player had already treated his wife to a romantic trip to France and Italy as an early birthday gift.

At the party, his only job was to welcome the 100-plus guests, usher them through to the marquee in the garden and announce a slideshow to celebrate Rachelle’s three decades on the planet … or so he thought. As the screen flashed up, the first image was a haka. The next image was of him. And the next. And so it went on. “I thought it was Chel’s big day,” Charlie smiles sheepishly, looking at his pretty, statuesque wife. “But she had hijacked it and made it all about me!”

“My goal was to bring him to tears – make the hard man cry,” grins events organiser Rachelle, 30. “And I succeeded! Although he grabbed our baby Leilani-Grace to shield his face so no-one could see.”

The gesture is typical of the pair’s strong bond, which began the moment a teenage Charlie first laid eyes on the attractive, mysterious girl from Wellington at his church in Manurewa, South Auckland, more than 10 years ago.

“I kept asking her cousin if she was seeing anyone,” he recalls. “I always knew she was The One, even though it took a bit of time to get to know her. When I asked her out, she said no a couple of times first!”

Ten full-on years

However, she eventually caved in to a first date – a trip to the cinema, followed by a burger at a fast-food joint, where Rachelle insisted on paying for her meal. In the decade since, the couple, both of Samoan descent, have been through a roller coaster of emotions as Charlie’s career has gone from strength to strength.

Last year’s Rugby World Cup victory was a high. A low came in November 2014, when a heavily pregnant Rachelle was assaulted during a terrifying traffic incident. It’s the subject of ongoing legal action, for which a man is now facing charges, including assault. “It was a huge shock, a very scary time,” she recalls, shuddering. “But we’ve stuck through it together and become stronger as a family.”

Likewise, Rachelle was a huge support when a neck injury – a compressed nerve – threatened to scupper Charlie’s chances of World Cup selection. “It was so touch-and-go, especially because it was so near to the spinal cord,” says Charlie. “But Chel was there, looking after me and supporting me from the get-go, even though she was all about the tough love!”

Charlie was delighted when, six weeks into his recovery after an operation, he was given the all-clear. “That was a big weight off my mind, knowing I could tackle again with confidence,” he tells. “I was just so lucky the coaches took a leap of faith.”

Another curveball came when Charlie sustained a concussion after being knocked out cold in a Blues game just days before the RWC team was revealed. Once again, his fate hung in the balance.

Rachelle recalls, “The day of the announcement, I was in the kitchen, making breakfast, and Charlie walked in. I said, ‘Have you heard anything?’ and his face dropped. He answered, ‘I didn’t make it in,’ then he started laughing and said, ‘I’m joking!’ We said a prayer of thanks and had a little celebration, just the four of us.”

Completing the family is adorable 13-month-old Leilani-Grace, who is already walking, and boisterous Riley, who is three but is already the size of a five-year-old.

“He’s gonna be a lock or, if he’s fast enough, a winger,” says Charlie proudly as his not-so-little man runs around. “He’s real good.”

The couple, who married four years ago in a small ceremony in Fiji, say the airport farewells – a constant ritual – are getting easier. Rachelle tells, “Riley knows now that Daddy will be coming back in a few weeks, that it’s all part of his job. And he’s so proud. When Charlie left for the World Cup, all the kids at his preschool put beards on and made their own hashtag #fearthebeard!”

Rachelle admits she was oblivious to Charlie’s talents when they first started dating, when he was going through rugby academy and kicking a ball around the local park with peers like Joe Rokocoko.

“His humour, kindness and humble personality are what attracted me,” insists Rachelle, who gave up her dreams of studying in the US to be with Charlie. “Over 10 years later, we’re still going strong! Even though everyone thinks he’s quite shy, he’s got such a quick wit. He’s always got the best comebacks.

“It’s funny because when I was growing up, my dad was a huge Wallabies fan, but I always said, ‘My son’s going to be an All Black.’ Little did I know my husband would be! But that’s what I love about Charlie – he always works hard to get what he wants.”

They both attribute Charlie’s work ethic to his father, Ituau Faumuina. The All Black tells, “I used to work with my old man in the school holidays and his co-workers would tell me, ‘Your dad’s one of the hardest workers.’ He inspires me. He always comes to my games.”

It’s a girl!

Charlie was in Scotland with the All Blacks when Rachelle gave birth to Leilani-Grace in November 2014, with her sister Melissa acting as “stand-in daddy”. (Sonny Bill Williams also missed the arrival of his daughter Imaan on the same trip.) He met his newborn girl for the first time at the airport a couple of weeks later.

It was a tricky first few days of motherhood for Rachelle, but like many rugby wives, she’s now used to being a solo parent for weeks at a time. Her tight group of friends, particularly Latai “Tai” Mealamu, the wife of All Black Keven, is a crucial support when our boys play.

“Right from the start, Tai has looked after me,” she says. “Whenever they go away, she texts me, ‘Time to put on your super-mama cape.’” And Rachelle does that wholeheartedly.“I have to be mum and dad – good cop and bad,” she grins. “When I speak Samoan to them, they know I’m angry. But teaching them the language is also really important so that they can communicate with their elders.”

That includes Charlie’s grandmother, family matriarch Faamalele, who was among the guests at a huge extended family bash for his 29th birthday on Christmas Eve. But despite the festive chaos, he and Rachelle have still managed to sneak in the occasional couples massage and dinner date.

“I love spending time withmy family before the season starts again,” smiles Charlie. “They bring me back down to earth real fast. I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

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