Rugby: Lomu overwhelmed by Fiji ceremony

By Peter White in Sigatoka

All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu is not often lost for words, but he was visibly moved by a special ceremony to celebrate his career in Sigatoka, Fiji, yesterday. Photo / Tim Hales.
All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu is not often lost for words, but he was visibly moved by a special ceremony to celebrate his career in Sigatoka, Fiji, yesterday. Photo / Tim Hales.

All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu is not often lost for words, but he was visibly moved by a special ceremony to celebrate his career in Sigatoka, Fiji, yesterday.

Lomu unveiled a plaque on the footpath in the centre of what is signposted as Rugby Town in a unique opening to the third Coral Coast Sevens tournament, which has attracted the strongest field yet, including a full-strength Australian national team.

The giant former winger is the tournament ambassador and was mobbed by hundreds of well-wishers at the unveiling.

Despite years of adulation, he still finds all the attention overwhelming at times.

"That sort of welcome still humbles me and I guess what makes it even more special is that we are in Fiji and when you are talking sevens, you can't go past Fiji," Lomu said.

"There are no doubts at all that Fiji is the home of sevens. When you look at who has won the World Cup sevens and also win-loss ratios, there are not many teams that come near Fiji.

They lose so many players each year because they go off-shore to make a living, but they just seem to replace them without any problem.

"It is like a factory here turning out sevens players."

Lomu's plaque is the third to be laid on the Sevens Walk of Fame in Sigatoka, beside Waisale Serevi and David Campese, who was the tournament ambassador last year.

"For me, it is quite humbling to be put up with those two greats. In my first year playing sevens in Hong Kong in 1994, I went to meet Serevi in his room and couldn't believe it.

"The previous year I was sitting in my school dormitory lounge watching him play sevens, so to get to rub shoulders with him now and call him my friend is a dream come true in a lot of ways.

"With me and Campo, we had a battle over who owns the No11, so it is a great honour and privilege to be recognised and honoured in this way."

Lomu expects to see colossal growth in the sevens game now it is an Olympic sport but also because it is the perfect fit for the diverse cultural and physical disparity around the world.

He says no matter who you are or where you are from, sevens is a one-size-fits-all fix.

"Sevens is definitely close to my heart and it is what will grow the game worldwide. It is a marketing dream for one, but it is also important that anyone can play it, whereas the 15-man game is not feasible for all teams to play.

"It is also feasible for smaller nations to be able to hold tournaments as it is more affordable for them. I think that is one of the catalysts for me in terms of what sevens can do for different countries.

"You just have to look at the tournament here. I think the Coral Coast Sevens is a stepping stone for many players to get their start like I did and one day, I would love to see an IRB tournament played here.

"The tournament has only been going three years and it is getting better and better. When you look at the calibre of players here it just shows what sevens can do for the game's profile."

Fiji's finest sevens player Serevi, now based in Seattle, Washington, and England's record breaking try scorer, Ben Gollings, have joined up in one of the pre-tournament favourites, Serevi Select, with last year's winners, Wardens, weakened by the unavailability of their Fijian national players.

New Zealand is represented by Auckland Marist, with Blues Super 15 brothers Peter and Francis Saili, as well as Auckland-based Lomaiviti Barbarians featuring IRB Player of the Year in 2011 Tomasi Cama, and the Pacific Warriors.

The full field of 24 men's teams is playing for a first prize of $30,000, while the women's field of eight teams is tuning up for the chance to be chosen by their national selectors for the inaugural IRB Women's World Series to be played in Dubai.

- APNZ

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