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The first of many

Manoj Kumar
Monday, February 11, 2013

FIJI'S first victory at the Hong Kong Sevens (1977) came as courtesy of a spirited effort from a disciplined lot.

Former England number eight Brian John Wightman was chosen to lead a strong side to So Kon Po.

In the forwards were Viliame Cegumalua, policeman Rupeni Ravonu, farmer Vuata Naresia and Native Land Trust Board worker Ilaitia Tuisese.

Factory foreman Robert Howard, civil servant Qele Ratu, Tui Cavuilati, Isimeli Batibasaga and Tevita Rabuli were the backs.

Tuisese, who went on to become a politician, was chosen skipper of the side with Naresia and the late Ravonu, who later coached Fiji to Sevens World Cup triumph in 1997, being of great help.

Tough opponents

Wightman picked Australia and Tonga as the two tough teams en route to our road to glory.

We faced Singapore first up and thrashed them 22-0.

Tonga gave us a good workout as we won 16-4 to book a semi-final berth with Australia.

The Aussies were good, but not good enough as they succumbed 15-4 as Wightman mapped out the 'perfect' strategy for the two big games.

"In the semi-final and final we were able to provide punch and penetration on both flanks by using Howard and Qele on one side and Naresia and Tuisese on the other," he said.

The team that was going to maintain its discipline was going to come out on top — that was the message from Wightman.

"During the competition, punches were thrown at Fiji players. There were some obstruction and jersey pulling and it was the Fiji team's refusal to be affected by these tactics that ensured them of their win," he later revealed.

Grand final

Fiji was in the final and we came up against New Zealand sevens champions Marlborough following the Kiwis 24-4 win over Japan in the other semi-final.

Within 30 seconds Fiji was in the lead through a Naresia try.

Batibasaga's conversion had us up 6-0.

Howard scored next, making it 10-0. Marlborough found the going tough in the early exchanges and by half-time Fiji led 16-0 after Tuisese picked up a loose ball, brushed aside a tackle and went over for a converted try.

In the second spell, playmaker Rabuli sent a long left-handed Fiji-style pass across the field to Howard who darted in for his second four-pointer.

The conversion made it 22-0 and it was virtually game over when Naresia breezed through for our fifth try. 28-0.

The Kiwis hit back with three late tries, but it was mere consolation as Fiji lifted its first Hong Kong Sevens crown with a 28-18 win.

Injury blow

Rover Cavuilati was outstanding in the first two games but was unfortunate to get hurt both times.

This forced Wightman to bring on Qele Ratu and he featured prominently and in the early 80s went on to play for the Australian Sevens team.

Pace ace Howard starred for us but it was really a well-worked team effort.

Wightman afterwards said there were many fond memories of that first-ever Fijian triumph in Hong Kong.

"Howard's sidesteps and speed, Cavuilati's setting up scores, Qele's covering up and backing up, the steadiness of Tevita, Isimeli's devotion to the task at hand-serving his backs and kicking conversions," he said.

"Huge credit to Tuisese's leadership on the field and dominance of lineout and Vuata's strength and speed."

Tonga won the plate final beating Indonesia 20-4.

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