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Ready for the big show

Emoni Narawa
Friday, February 22, 2013

THE man maverick Wallaby playmaker Quade Cooper has been researching for this weekend's Super 15 round says he'll know him better if they meet face to face.

Rookie Ben Volavola, who had his first Super 15 experience against the Crusaders last week, was named as a reserve after making his debut against the former champions in a friendly.

He and his Waratahs have been reading the Bible from the book of Proverbs - a chapter a day - this week as they prepare for the Queensland Reds.

By game time tomorrow, they would have read chapter 23.

Like many super stars in Jason Robinson the 2003 Rugby World Cup winning fullback for England, former All Blacks Michael Jones, Silver Ferns sharpshooter Irene van Dyk, sevens maestro Waisale Serevi and many others, who turned to God for spiritual inspiration, Volavola is glorifying the Almighty, utilising his talent at the highest level.

"We prepare ourselves spiritually by reading a chapter per day from the Bible. Some players in our team do read a chapter per day and today we are reading Proverbs chapter 19," he told Times Sport this week.

While awaiting medical tests on first choice playmaker Barrick Barne, who is suffering a knee injury and Bernard Foley, who was recovering from an ankle injury, Cooper was eyeing Volavola this week.

He was clueless about this new Fijian who he thought he'd face. Cooper turned to Google to research the former Australian under-20 playmaker.

Volavola, 22, on the other hand, was looking forward to meeting the unpredictable Queenslander.

"Quade Cooper is one talented player. He is a world class playmaker. He has the experience and the flair which makes him one of the unpredictable players on the field. But I am looking forward to play against him if Barnes and Foley fail to recover from their injuries," he said.

Yesterday, Foley was named ahead of Volavola but the Waratahs management have put him on notice just in case.

For this New South Wales five-eighth, the dream to become a Waratah started several years earlier thousands of miles across the seas, all the way to Veiuto at Nasese.

It was during his young days when the plastic bottle was his rugby ball in the muddy grounds facing the ocean.

He attended Veiuto Primary School before migrating to Australia with his mum.

Recalling his days running barefoot with a casual yellow T-shirt (Veiuto's traditional sports uniform) was the first step to his long journey to where he is now.

Volavola said playing rugby barefoot in heavy-underfoot conditions using plastic bottles or anything close to an oval-shaped object as a rugby ball was something that only happens in Fiji.

He had his first Super crunch with Crusaders hitman Robbie Fruean early in last week's game and registered that moment for his old-days scrap book.

Fruean fired straight at Volavola with ball in hand, giving him a super taste of what to expect at that level.

"I was fortunate to play against a quality team like the Crusaders," Volavola told Times Sport from Sydney.

"That first contact from Fruean really settled me into the game. He just gave me something I needed to be aware of at this level. When I saw the backline fall back, I knew straight away that he would run straight at me. He just made me feel the game."

Volavola said he valued the experience of playing against 10 All Blacks who featured for the Crusaders last week.

He labelled the game as dynamic and full of exploits.

"This was one of the quickest games I have ever played in my life. The pace was just so fast. It was so intense and I really learnt a lot of things from that game. It was a great learning experience for me as a young player," he said.

Volavola lined up against the world's best flyhalf and All Blacks superstar Dan Carter in that game.

He was stunned at how calm Carter controlled the game for the Crusaders.

"To play opposite Dan Carter was really exciting. He is one player that I looked up to when I was young and to play opposite him was a great experience. He's so calm and I learnt a lot from how he controls the game for the Crusaders," he said.

His days in Fiji are his inspiration.

"I will cherish every moment of my early rugby days in Fiji. I used to play for Veiuto in the U9 grade.

"That was where I started playing rugby. I remember we used to play rugby at lunch time using plastic bottles and then we got blisters from trying to grab the bottle from another player. It was fun but I did not know that it was the beginning of something big for me

"And I was surprised seeing players my age wearing rugby boots and proper jerseys when we migrated to Australia. I think it's only in Fiji where they play barefoot and using plastic bottles as rugby balls."

Now waiting for the appointed time to make his Super Rugby debut, Volavola said it would never be if not for Veiuto.

"I never regretted playing back in Veiuto when I was young. I got those blisters but I did not know that it was the beginning of something for me. When I came to Australia, I did my best training and I believe I am blessed to be given the opportunity to represent the Waratahs," he added.

The NSW franchise will play the Reds at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane tomorrow night at 8.40pm.


* Ben's grandfather is former Suva Mayor Ratu Peni Volavola

* Eldest of two siblings

* Fifth player Waratahs extended players squad (EPS)

* Grandmum Bulou Vasiti Mea Naqova played netball for Suva

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