Brotherly ties supercede rugby scrimmage line

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Tiani Whitman
Brothers Seen and Celcius Tarawhiti grew up playing on the same team. Now, they’re rugby rivals. (Tiani Whitman)

When a healthy sibling rivalry grows into something more, the results can be captivating to watch. After growing up side-by-side in the rugby world, brothers Seen and Celcius Tarawhiti are making a name for themselves 7,678 miles away from their home country of Australia — and on separate university rugby teams.

There are only two years separating the Tarawhiti brothers, but they are more than just close in age.

“With the age difference between the two, they had the same friends, and would hang out together most of the time,” said Sinclair Tarawhiti, the brothers’ father. “We had no drama with them.”

At a young age, the brothers cemented their relationship by competing together. Their family put them in a sport called rugby league, which is similar to rugby in gameplay and rules.

“(Seen and Celcius) started playing tackle rugby league at the age of five,” Sinclair said. “They played a couple of seasons in New Zealand. Then we moved to the Gold Coast of Australia, which is a rugby league town, and the boys loved it.”

The popularity of rugby league in the Gold Coast meant the brothers could continue to play and improve. Both Seen and Celcius showed skill through their high school years.

With all the time they spent together on and off the field, there was never any shortage of competitive spirit between them — a spirit present in everything they did.

Young Celcius and Seen Tarawhiti smile for the camera. (Instagram)

“We always had to be on the same team because our parents didn’t want to drive to different places for our games,” Seen said. “But we still found a way to be competitive in everything growing up, especially in the backyard. Basketball, backyard rugby, Xbox, all of it.”

“And food, when we were fighting for seconds,” added Celcius, laughing.

After so many years of life side-by-side, it wasn’t surprising that the brothers made the big move to Utah together.

Seen, the younger of the two, moved to Utah to attend BYU in 2015 and lived in the state without his brother before serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand. While Seen was away, Celcius decided to make the trek to Utah in 2016.

“When I was here my freshman year, I was here by myself and was lonely and homesick all the time,” Seen said, patting his brother on the back. “I had my uncle, which was awesome, but having my brother here has made it a lot better.”

Tiani Whitman
Celcius and Seen Tarawhiti play video games together. The competitive nature between the brothers comes naturally both on and off the rugby field. (Tiani Whitman)

Now that the brothers are reunited in the same city, their competitive spirit has been reborn. This time, however, it shines on the rugby pitch.

Seen joined the BYU rugby team in 2015 and played his freshman year under former head coach David Smyth, who is currently the coach for the UVU rugby program.

“Honestly my goal was to play for BYU, but then it would have taken me a while to transfer,” Celcius said. “When my Uncle Wayne told me (about the coaching changes), I thought it was sweet. I was really excited because I knew as soon as they came to UVU they would turn the program around really quick, and they have.”

The brothers’ uncle, Wayne Tarawhiti, is a former assistant coach of the BYU rugby team and a big factor in why they decided to bring their rugby talents to Utah.

Seen, who began his American rugby career under the direction of Smyth and his uncle Wayne, said he knows the coaching change will bring a higher level of competition to Utah’s rugby atmosphere.

“It’s unfortunate that (the coaches) left, but it’s cool that they went to UVU to help the program over there,” Seen said. “It helps build the competition around this area. It’s good to have another program that’s got solid coaching and a really bright future.”

Tiani Whitman
A house divided: bother brothers represent their individual team’s logos. (Tiani Whitman)

The last time the two rugby teams were set to face each other in early 2018, BYU called off the game because of an “unsafe environment.” Fans who were at the event noted fighting to be the main cause of the early forfeit.

Wolverine fans tweeted the forfeit was unnecessary, but because the game wasn’t broadcast, all accusations were based on hearsay.

With the local rivalry remaining hot and a game against UVU still unscheduled, the Tarawhiti brothers are already looking forward to meeting each other on the field for the first time. Seen, who returned from his mission to New Zealand in June 2018, was not present for the ill-fated February matchup.

“In our friend group we have half of us from BYU (rugby) and half from UVU (rugby) and we like to talk trash to each other about when we play next,” Celcius said.

“We don’t know what it will take, but we hope it happens,” Seen added.

Friend, roommate and UVU rugby teammate Utah Mann made the move to Provo after being inspired by what the Tarawhiti brothers accomplished in their college rugby programs.

“They are what inspired me to come out here, and I saw that they could do it, so I knew I could do it too,” Mann said. “They helped me move up here, and helped me experience the state. Plus, they’ve become like brothers to me themselves.”

Like Celcius, outside factors kept Mann from playing on the accredited BYU rugby team, but he is just as excited for a future matchup.

“Because of the cards I got dealt, (BYU) is no longer an option,” Mann said. “The next big thing would be to play them and beat them.”

While both brothers are enjoying the time they get to spend on the rugby pitch, it can be difficult to be 7,000 miles away from home. Their family isn’t too fond of the difference, either.

“They hate it,” Seen laughs.

“Mum calls us everyday at the same time like clockwork. I’m at 3:00 pm, he’s at 3:30 pm,” Celcius said, joining in.

Even though they joke about the distance, both the brothers and their family know that the move was the right choice for the brothers’ futures.

“We miss them, but they are in the right place,” their father Sinclair said. “They are having experiences that they will never have if they were still here on the Gold Coast. Their priorities should set Heavenly Father and the church first. When you put the Lord first, the rest of the priority list becomes a little easier and you will be given inspired direction.”

Seen tosses Celcius a rugby ball after joking about the BYU vs. UVU rivalry in their friend group. (Tiani Whitman)

With an established life in Utah and a bright future for Utah rugby on the horizon, the Tarawhiti brothers said they are excited for what the future has in store for their rugby programs. Still, both men hope to leave a more lasting impact than a few points on the rugby pitch.

“Rugby is awesome. It’s done heaps for us in our life and it’s a huge part of who we are and where we are from,” Seen said. “Besides rugby, though, my goal is to get a valuable degree that can lead to a career that will provide enjoyment in my life and stability for my family.”

With the competitive season approaching for both programs, the future of the local rivalry is still in the air. With the coaching changes and the outcome of the most recent matchup, there’s no way to know if a rivalry game is guaranteed to happen.

However, the Tarawhiti brothers are ready to give a good show when it does.

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