Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Rugby: Fijian kids tonic for Te Puke rugby

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Fijian scholarship students to Te Puke Intermediate Joseph Vueti (left) and Josese Vukataki at All Blacks Sevens training at Blake Park yesterday. Photo / John Borren
Fijian scholarship students to Te Puke Intermediate Joseph Vueti (left) and Josese Vukataki at All Blacks Sevens training at Blake Park yesterday. Photo / John Borren

A positive initiative by Te Puke Intermediate's Rugby Academy has broken new ground in the proud association between Fiji and New Zealand.

Over the years many Fijian schoolboys have attended New Zealand secondary schools on full scholarships but none at primary and intermediate levels - until now.

Joseph Vueti, 13, and Josese Vukataki, 12, from Marist Brothers Primary School in Suva will spend the rest of the school year in Te Puke. The boys are the first in a three-year programme and featured in Fiji's two main newspapers and on national television news before they flew out on March 19.

This weekend they have their first full game of rugby for Te Puke Sports against Rangiuru, which they are excited about. Missing home and their families is the obvious downside but they both say they are settling in well and looking forward to learning from the experience in the classroom and on the rugby field.

Te Puke Intermediate's Rugby Academy was established two months ago and is the brainchild of two former Steamers in Darren Harvey and Steve Milne. They both went to Fiji with school principal Jill Weldan to attend a rugby trial involving 70 boys from which Joseph and Josese were selected.

Milne says the arrangement is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

"We know that rugby is struggling in the Te Puke area for all sorts of reasons. There are a lot less playing it so all we are trying to do is create a little bit of a vibe around by having the Fijian boys come on board and being part of our group.

"It is giving them an opportunity but also giving us an opportunity as well. They are going to bring an element of difference to what they do which is going to be really good for our guys.

"We should be able to live off some of the stuff they do which we don't do in terms of the way they play the game. We have already noticed in the last couple of trainings there are certain things they do that we possibly can't dream of doing. They keep the ball alive so well and there are opportunities to work off them plus we can teach them the fundamentals of what we do."

Milne says much of the credit for establishing the rugby academy should go to Darren Harvey.

"He has been the full driver behind the thing. Jointly we came up with the idea but in terms of administration and getting stuff through the school that needs to be ticked off he has been magnificent. I try to concentrate on what happens inside the chalk and he concentrates on what happens outside the chalk. It seems to be working so well."

The Fijian scholarships are not the only New Zealand sporting first for Te Puke Intermediate.

The school has produced four All Blacks in Royce Willis, Jarrad Hoeata, Tanerau Latimer and Nathan Harris - more than any other intermediate school in the country.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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