NINE players made their test debuts and two hung up their boots during Fiji's 1976 rugby tour of Australia.
Halfbacks Samisoni Viriviri and Paula Waisake, flankers Eroni Matalau, Isoa Makutu and Viliame Ratudradra, props Peceli Kina and Josefa Rauto, wing Jolame Veidreyaki and lock Josaia Tuqiri donned the Fiji jumper for the first time in the three Test series against the Aussies in June that year.
After the six-week tour, Nadroga duo, backline utility Senitiki Nasave and Meli Kurisaru retired from international rugby.
Led by skipper Ilaitia Tuisese, Fiji took on Sydney at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) and went down narrowly, 12-4. Up next was Tasmania in Hobart with Fiji winning well 48-8. Perth was our next stop as we hammered Western Australia 47-3. In Adelaide, South Australia pipped us 10-7. In Melbourne, we won over Victoria 27-4 before moving on to Wagga Wagga where New South Wales Country edged us 13-11. It was back to the venue of our first tour match (Sydney Sports Ground) and New South Wales beat us well, 37-6. In Canberra, we overcame the Australia Capital Territory 28-12 and then took on Queensland in Brisbane, a match we lost 16-28.
In the warm-up to the first Test we defeated Queensland Country 24-4.
On June 12, 1976, the team headed to the Sydney Cricket Ground to play the first of three Test matches.
Making their debut were Kina, Makutu, Ratudradra, Rauto, Veidreyaki and Waisake. Six first-timers in top flight rugby but the boys didn't do too bad, losing 22-6 after being down 14-6 at half-time to the Geoff Shaw-led Australia. Fiji's points came from a try to Tuisese, who was number eight with Ilisoni Taoba and Jope Jr Naucabalavu being paired at locks. The try was converted by fullback Aminiasi Naituyaga.
For the second Test in Brisbane, there were seven changes with Viriviri and Matalau making their debut. Matalau came in for Ratudradra at flanker, burly prop Jo Sovau replaced Kina, Viriviri took up Waisake's berth, Watisoni Nasalo came in at stand-off for Dan Lobendahn, Lario Raitilava took up Naituyaga's fullback position and Nasave was shifted from centre to wing replacing Veidreyaki with Wame Gavidi coming on at number 13.
Raitilava's three penalties was all we could afford as the national team lost the second Test 9-21 despite having held Australia 6-6 at half-time.
There were changes for the final Test too. Wing Ravuama Latilevu came in for Seremaia Cavuilati, Meli Kurisaru in for injured Tuisese at number eight, Josaia Tuqiri in to make his debut in place of Naucabalavu at lock and Kina joining the front row to replace Antonio Racika. Kina took up Sovau's propping role with the latter moving to hooker.
This Test was a cracker and the Fijians looked far better running the ball instead of sticking to tight play.
Sovau was sent-off for putting the boot into one of the Australian players as he lay on the ground but the Fijians later claimed that the Nadi man was simply trying to kick the ball from underneath the player's body.
The Fijians were so upset with some of Sydney referee WM Clooney's decisions, including Sovau's red card, that they marched off the field of play only to be persuaded back on by manager, Dr Mesake Biumaiwai.
There was a punch-up and the brawl lasted for a good few minutes. ARU president Bill McLaughlin was angered and threatened to call off their proposed tour of Fiji in 1977.
"As far as I am concerned, it is not on," he said.
"A tour of Fiji now would be a brawl the whole length of the islands."
In the end, Fiji lost but finished the tour with their heads held high despite playing the last quarter with 14 players. Australia won 27-17 with Matalau, Nasave and Viriviri scoring tries and Nasave adding a penalty and a conversion.