Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Super door lamentably closed on Pacific flair

Crusaders assistant Tabai Matson and players from both teams brought their bloodlines back to the National Stadium in Suva last night as Super rugby rocked the capital. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Crusaders assistant Tabai Matson and players from both teams brought their bloodlines back to the National Stadium in Suva last night as Super rugby rocked the capital. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Many of us lament the lack of Pacific Island involvement in Super Rugby.

In 1995 when the series was being devised, rugby warlords including the domineering Louis Luyt offered hope about their inclusion. In reality, those bosses feared the Pacific Island flair and pinpointed their commercial weakness to eliminate them from the competition.

That Super Rugby door has been shut ever since while sides from Argentina and Japan have been embraced and others have welcomed extra teams to the bloated tournament.

Fiji is one of the sides outside the tournament umbrella with many of their aspiring professional players forced instead to use their talents for a club in Europe. Some make their way in Australasia.

Crusaders assistant Tabai Matson and players from both teams brought their bloodlines back to the National Stadium in Suva last night as Super rugby rocked the capital.

Ten Fijian-born players have represented the All Blacks. Three were forwards but Ron Williams, Arthur Jennings and David Solomon did not play a test. All the backs did from Bernie Fraser to the latest pick Seta Taminavalu.

Joeli Vidiri powered down the right flanks until his kidneys cut him down, Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu were the lithe speedsters who danced and floated down their territory while Waisake Naholo carries a mix of those talents.

The best of them all did not play for the All Blacks. He played just seven tests for Fiji in a seven-year stretch.

Rupeni Caucaunibuca was a wonderful talent. He had all the raw ingredients of pace and power mixed with massive dollops of balance, self-confidence and unflinching venom.

He was also magnificently exasperating, as difficult to corral for training as he was on the paddock when he was in his pomp with the Blues in 2002-3. He grew up in a remote part of Fiji but excelled at sevens before becoming a supernova of Super rugby. He helped the Blues win the title in 2003 as he duped many defenders then shot through to contracts in Europe with trouble trailing him at regular intervals.

Some of his flaws meant Fiji banned him for a year for missing camp while he tested positive for cannabis use and reneged on a number of contracts. He needed a bigger jersey but could still produce blitzing moments of brilliance when his change of pace and bruising hips confounded defenders.

He was equally difficult to pin down for an interview. Eventually cousin Rokocoko was a compliant intermediary and agreed to make the arrangements for a chat after one Blues training session. The start was fine.

Three of us sat down and exchanged pleasantries but from then most questions, translated by Joe, brought giggles and gabble from Rups and equal hilarity from Joe while I felt as helpless as many defenders watching the back of his No11 jersey.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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