Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Fiji villages show love for the game

Fiji villages show love for the game.
All Black Seta Tamanivalu.
All Black Seta Tamanivalu.

A wall of pride greets you at Nadi airport.

The area is a construction zone with a wide variety of estimates about the finishing date but there is no disparity on one issue.

Massive posters of the champion Olympic sevens squad stare joyously out at the visitors' queue as it slowly moves towards the immigration desk.

Cheerful songs and boisterous calls of bula lace the organised chaos as the air conditioning works valiantly to give some relief.

Outside, kids are flinging a ball around on dusty uneven fields as the next wave of natural talent show their skills.

From there to the tip of the Yasawas, footy is a staple part of life in Fiji.

Up in the far north sits the village of Yasawaiwara.

About 200 live in the village where Ratu Asaeli runs operations.

We sit on a massive flax mat as the chief multi-tasks. He hisses at goats invading the chicken run, admonishes a grandson climbing over his back and answers a cellphone call about church business.

He points towards the end of the bay where Seta Tamanivalu' s dad lives and tells how Seta, like his kids, was schooled locally before boarding on the mainland and returning home once a year.

Tamanivalu is now an All Black and that is as much prestige for the village as the new $2m wharf the government has built to handle cruise ships.

That will bring more income for the whole village when the trips start. More honour to tack alongside the pride in Tamanivalu who has signed with the Crusaders. It's a good time to offer a few sporting gifts and hope Asaeli has a pump for a rugby ball. He needs a few things we have on the boat and when we return, the job is done and the kids are already kicking, passing and laughing.

That love for rugby flows through village life in Fiji although harnessing that talent is the awkward part.

All that skill and enthusiasm should be steered into Super Rugby and maybe they could emulate Samoa and host the All Blacks.

Certainly Fiji would add some pizzazz to a Super Rugby series which has lost its way.

If organisers are so intent on expansion they should include Fiji and Samoa and jettison a team each from Australia and South Africa.

Playing in the Pacific Islands will bring issues but the rewards, both to the locals and Sanzaar, will outweigh the difficulties.

The Crusaders and Chiefs showed the way this year. Hosting more games will test the financial and infrastructure boundaries in somewhere like Fiji.

But the joy of rugby, that passion which bubbled through the village of Yasawaiwara has just as much value.

Domestic talent would get the chance to target a career in professional rugby with significant demands on those who administer the game.

It would increase connections between New Zealand, Australia and players from Fiji, Samoa and other islands and allow Pacific Islanders to play for their home countries.

Someone like Tamanivalu could have chosen to play for Fiji rather than go overseas.

- 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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