THIS is Part I of the story regarding one of Fiji rugby's fastest wingers and speed ace in Nawaka's Senivalati Laulau.
Laulau died aged 61, after a short illness in Nawaka. He never drank liquor, a bit of kava, did not smoke and was a fitness fanatic.
He was an intelligent player and what he lacked in size he made up with guts.
During his emergence from 1980 to 1985 in the Fijian jersey he had thrilled the rugby public so much with his blistering speed as well as rugby writers, who enjoyed describing him with all sorts of superlatives.
Even during an early exit in the Hong Kong Sevens by Fiji the Kiwis borrowed him and Laulau donned the All Black jersey to play for New Zealand in the final.
Laulau is originally from a village in the interior of the district of Nawaka called Uto but lived most of his life with relatives in Nawaka village near Nadi town where he was a bank officer.
Many rugby wingers who emerged in the sevens era, or since 1976, represented Fiji first in sevens then later in the full code.
But Laulau hit the headlines first in the full code while on a tour of New Zealand in 1980 where he scored tries in each of the six games Fiji played there.
The media was always unsure of Laulau's age but if he was 61 when he died two weeks ago then he was a late starter in rugby and earned his first Fiji selection at the age of 29 in 1980.
When he came onto the Nadi scene he had to play second fiddle to then top Nadi winger Taniela Nayate who played for Fiji under coach/manager Ilaitia Tuisese to win Fiji's third Hong Kong Sevens title in 1980.
Nayate then left to take up a rugby league offer with St George in Sydney and Laulau stepped into his shoes.
One of Laulau's biggest and most memorable achievements was performed outside the country during the Fiji rugby tour of Argentina in October and November of 1980.
Laulau ran from behind the goal posts and then outpaced all 15 Argentine players of the opposition to score a spectacular try. That was blistering speed.
The coach of that tour was Ilaitia Tuisese and the other wingers on tour were Suka Waqabaca of Lau playing in Nasinu and Tevita Makutu of Nasama, Nadroga. Waqabaca later went to play in Brisbane.
The fullback of that tour Jone Ratu of Rukurukulevu, Nadroga said Laulau received the ball on the 22-metre line.
"Then he ran back under the posts and began his run from there," Ratu said.
"He sidestepped left and right and all the opposition could do was to force him to score near the corner flag."
"He was an unstoppable man and he always gave all his heart on the rugby field during a game and also in training.
"He trained as he played, always pushing to the limit, never giving up."
Laulau was soft-spoken and was humble and earned the respect of those who knew him because he showed respect to everybody.
Ratu and Laulau went on another two tours together in 1981 this time under coach Meli Kurisaru and manager Paula Cavu.
In 1981 they went on the same team to Tonga and the infamous 10-match tour loss on England and Scotland.
"It was a conspiracy and we were destined to lose all ten matches as the British arranged the tour to be so to avenge the British Lions loss here in 1977," Ratu said.
"It was like test rugby on a week day and on the weekend and districts combined to form a team and one of the clubs they played mid-week was Leicester, which had 12 British Lions," Ratu said.
That was not only Laulau's disappointing tour he was also a member of Rupeni Ravonu's Fiji sevens team of 1981, which lost the Hong Kong sevens title Tuisese's men had gallantly won in 1980.
The 1981 Fiji sevens team was captained by Lautoka's Viliame Ratudradra and the other members were Aliposo Waqaliti, Iokimi Finau, Dominiko Manaseitava, Ilami Lutumailagi, Paula Waisake, Esala Labalaba and Laulau. Only eight players were allowed in a team then.
Laulau had prepared well in the off-season running on the road and played sevens rugby for Nawaka and then in the then SUNSEVENS tournament Laulau's Nadi team took apart all other teams and Nadi won the annual provincial sevens tournament, which was also a selection trial for Hong Kong.
Laulau scored six tries for Nadi that day and he and Finau were the two new Nadi men on tour with Lutumailagi and Labalaba having played in Hong Kong before. The late Finau a bearded and feared rugged customer had been planning to travel with his Air Terminal Services workmates to watch the HK7s.
Fiji bowed out in the semi-final to the British Barbarians 6-10 in the mud and slosh.
The Barbarians used a different tactic in the wet conditions and legendary British Lion backrow Andy Ripley barged his way for two tries, one in each half. Fiji's lone try came from a runaway try by Laulau from fifty metres to score under the posts and Paula Waisake converted.
For all Laulau's humble and respectable character it was hard to keep that composure against a 'tauvu' especially from Kadavu, who was always trying to get the better of him in every situation just to get a laugh.
Especially if that guy is the burly, Fiji prop, the late Tuimasi Tubananitu.
According to a Fiji rugby official, on a tour of the British Isles, that they had a brief stopover in Los Angeles before coming to Fiji.
There was a sudden commotion and then an eruption of laughter.
Down the streets of LA Laulau was racing full speed laughing his head off and behind him was an enraged Tubananitu hot on his heels.
Someone explained that Tubananitu had mistakenly entered the Ladies room because Laulau had switched the signs on the doors of the Ladies and Gentlemen rooms.
NEXT WEEK: Part II of the Laulau story.