Fijian squad arrives in Sydney for 7s tournament

Update: 10:58PM After selling fish and coconuts to help finance their trip from Fiji the Gonetoga rugby squad is ready to take on their Pacific nation rivals in Sydney.

The 15-member squad is the first from the Rewa province, which takes in the capital Suva, to travel to Australia for the Fiji Day Rugby Sevens Tournament in Parramatta this weekend.

The tournament is part of the Fiji Day Sydney festival, a major Pacific community event which attracted more than 20,000 people last year.

A total of 24 teams representing Pacific nations and Fijian provinces will take part.

Gonetoga team manager Unaisi Karan said many of the players came from simple backgrounds.

“This team is from the village,” she said.

“Some of them are unemployed, some are fishermen and farmers, and they collect fish, collect coconuts.

“For some, it was the first time on a plane.

“To play in a big stadium will be an eye-opener.”

Team captain Ilikena Karikaritu, 29, said many of the players sacrificed work to finance the trip.

“The rest of the boys, we deliver them some jobs to do,” he said.

“Go out in the bush look for coconuts, some go out in the sea for fish.

“We put it together and sell the Lovo [national drink] for 50 dollars.”

The fly-half said the team’s discipline included a self-imposed ban on alcohol, smoking and kava, which had helped them become role models in their province and fuelled their motivation to win the $20,000 prize money.

“All the elder people, they were very proud of us,” he said.

“Even for some of the boys, it was very hard to leave [those] things and it’s been good to even, [for] some of us, grow big and healthy.”

Team member Vuate Godro Sukulu, 22, said the village support had been huge.

“All our family members they were very supportive by helping us coming out here,” he said.

“They were calling and praying for us and for best of luck.”