Whether it be a shoe, plastic bottle or even a coconut, throw it into a group of young Fijian boys and the natural instinct is to play rugby.
Rugby commentators usually prattle on that sevens rugby is the national sport of Fiji. However I beg to differ. Let it be known that RUGBY is the national sport of Fiji. It may be because Fiji once excelled in the abbreviated code, that the stereotype of ‘being good sevens players’ has stuck.
Fijians are really rugby mad.
Not just the native iTaukeis, but people from every walk of life stop what they’re doing when a team of grunts don that white jersey for a bit of egg chasing. They get so invested in the matches, the fallout is a given should Fiji lose. Stories abound of people who have had fatal coronaries while watching and there have been instances of television screens attempting to fly, as they exit the home via the nearest window. The Fiji public is a made up of bad losers and it requires thick skin to coach or represent the country.
Fijian women can be quite rugby mad.
There’s nothing more attractive to a Fijian bloke than a woman who can distinguish between rucks and mauls or even locks from fullbacks. Bonus points to a lady who can name a starting 15 for any rugby side. Many local couples have been witnessed to support different teams and give each other no quarter when barracking for their side. While there has to be a winner and loser, they will then return to reality and melt back into each other’s arms whispering sweet-nothings. Heartwarming stuff really but I have yet to meet as compatible a mate as described above. Yet I continue to hold out for that special Sheila who can wax lyrical about Quade, Richie or Dusautoir and not just because they are hunks.
Fijians are definitely rugby mad.
Ruggers in Fiji have different mentalities. You have your crash-ball exponents who love nothing better than to hit a gap at top peddle and there are bulky steamrollers who would rather run over opponents. Then you have twinkle-toed fairies (usually wingers) who prefer to weave their way through traffic and there are tenacious madmen who hit rucks at breakneck speeds that make a spectator cringe at the impact. But, there is one factor that is common in most Fiji ruggers. Speed. Combine that with the genetic build of the average Fiji Islander and that makes him naturally suited for the sport. Throw him into a match and he can fit into any position, bar the front row.
The Fiji National XV side struggled to make significant inroads on the global scene and it seemed that would always be the case. Then came a magical afternoon in Marseilles. The year was 2007. Rugby World Cup. Fiji was taking on Wales in their final pool match for a quarterfinal spot. The game see-sawed and Fiji emerged victorious.
The memory of citizens roaming the streets and celebrating as if Fiji had won the entire tourney, continues to linger in my mind. Patriotism was at the highest possible level and even though Fiji bowed out the following week to the Bokke, anything seemed possible for a small Pacific nation.
But then the wheels fell off the wagon and the sport finds itself back in the doldrums. RWC 2011 was the straw that broke the camels back. Supporters are still reeling from the poor showing and I will not touch on this topic just yet. It deserves an article of its own.
Fijians are truly rugby mad.
Most Fiji XVs sides get stuck in in the first quarter of a match. Then they begin to unravel after that. You can almost set your watch to it because it seemed to be the norm. If 15s rugby was only 10 minutes a half, Fiji would be up there in the rankings. That is why Fijians love and shine in sevens rugby. Seven minutes a half, fourteen in total and that is enough time to tackle, score, run, fend, and ruck at an optimum level without a drop in intensity.
Fijians have loved the shortened version for the longest time. I remember waiting for the VHS tapes to arrive after a Hong Kong Sevens tourney, back in the 90s. Then upon getting a copy, the family would huddle around the TV and relive the moments, win or lose. Fiji was on top along with New Zealand and that rivalry was the stuff of legends. Then the IRB Sevens Series was born and the rest of the world caught up to the rivals, in some cases, even overtaking them.
Fijians are extremely rugby mad.
There is a shortage of international rugby in the ‘Land of Smiles’. The only regular visitors to the shores are neighbors Tonga and Samoa. Other than that, touring teams are a hard thing to come by. Such is the hunger for rugby, that when even a NZ Divisional XV toured Fiji in the early 2000s, the National Stadium would be full of oval-ball lovers hoping to be entertained with good rugby.
I remember fondly visits by Scotland, Italy, NZ Maoris, and Australia A but such tours have since dried up. Whatever Tests that have been handed down by the IRB have been mostly away games for Fiji and the rugby public misses out.
Fijians love their rugby.
There’s no doubt about it. But there’s culture of only supporting winners and that hurts the morale of national players and administrators. Hopefully, with the new setup at Rugby House, rugby in the islands reaches the heights that it has threatened to reach for so long, but has continually fallen short.
Black shorts. White jersey. Coconut tree emblem.
Watch this space.
Because Fijians are rugby mad.