FORMER Fijian flyer Rupeni Caucau has shown that he still has what it takes to win back a spot in the Flying Fijians after some sizzling runs for Northland in the ITM Cup competition.
Starved of possession, he showed glimpses of his dazzling form of old in the few runs that he had, one of them in setting up a try for his fullback, which was later disallowed because of a forward pass.
Caucau shot through the opposition defence like a missile and could have scored the try himself but he handed the ball to his fullback supporting on the left and the video referee declared it a forward pass. Northland won.
A host of Fijian players featured in the Southland against Northland ITM Cup clash as well as the sons of former New Zealand and Samoa reps Fatialofa and Whetton.
Northland had Caucau and sevens player Jone Macilai while Southland had Waisake Naholo, Flying Fijians halfback Nemia Kenatale and a couple of other Fijian forwards.
Unfortunately for Fijian Savenaca Tokula it was at his 50th game for Waikato that they lost the Ranfurly Shield to Otago 26-19.
Otago last held the shield in 1957 and it has taken 56 years for them to win back the prized trophy.
Fiji Bitter Suva begin their defence of the Fijian version of the Ranfurly Shield, the Farebrother-Sullivan trophy, against Lautoka this week after failing at Lawaqa Park last Saturday.
Winning the Digicel Cup final last Saturday, the Outrigger on the Lagoon Nadroga side, led by prop Setefano Somoca, proved that they had the right formula for winning rugby not only on the ground but more so outside the ground.
Despite losing top players to overseas clubs at the beginning of the season their development program in the under-20 has seen them maintain consistency in their performance.
Last Saturday, Suva led by Dale Tonawai played a near-perfect game to win turnovers and dominated the set pieces, even disrupting Nadroga's scrums but the Stallions caught them napping twice to score two tries and that was all they needed.
Nadroga played better rugby in open play and Suva had to resort more to the kick and chase — sometimes it was like a fishing expedition.
They had played percentage rugby using their two kickers in Isoa Donaldson and Jo Basudra to score penalties and drop goals but Nadroga had their own ace kickers in Nemani Raiwalui and vice captain Apisalome Waqatabu. It nullified that advantage.
Their inexperience in high pressure rugby eventually showed off when they missed drop goals, penalties and even failed to find touch from penalty kicks. They had allowed the crowd pressure to get into their heads thus losing concentration. The same had happened to Namosi's Ilai Tinai and Joji Ragamate in the semi-finals.
Replacing them with fresh kickers in the last quarter would have probably been an alternative that coach Salimoni Ravouvou will have to keep in mind in the next couple of weeks.
Suva could not convert the wealth of possession into points but they either kicked or ran back into their forwards. A predictable approach that Nadroga was prepared to counter. They may have had some plans to surprise Nadroga but it failed to materialise on the day.
Suva winger Viliame Sokiveta played a grand game after some try-saving tackles and good attacking runs on the flanks and was also well marked by Waqatabu and Meli Kurisaru.
He reminds us of former Fiji flanker Vuata Narisia, who former national coach Inoke Tabualevu had him run from between the second-five and centre in a ploy successfully used in the 1977 win over the British Lions.
Suva has over the years played a forward dominated type of rugby and last Saturday found out that it was not enough just winning and turning over possession. Their defence was found wanting at times.
For the next eight consecutive weeks, they will be defending the Farebrother-Sullivan trophy, if they succeed in retaining it from Lautoka this Saturday. They will need a big pool of players and maintain consistency.
However, in Suva's case many other talented players are waiting on the sidelines from teams other than the disciplined forces like Raiwaqa and Covenant Brothers and they proved themselves by reaching the semi-finals of the Escott Shield.
They may provide the X-factor that's missing from Suva and these freaks or unorthodox type of players make the difference between predictable and unpredictability.
But even if they maintain the form and performance they had at Lawaqa, they will remain champions right through the challenges.
Meanwhile, Nadroga players celebrated their win with a lovo lunch after church service and thanksgiving on Sunday at Talenavuruvuru hosted by the committee.
They have been given the final challenge by Suva, who would want to maximise their earnings by retaining the coveted trophy. Winning the trophy was a tough task for the Capital City but defending it is a different kettle of fish. Someone said it was like being the victim of a 'veibuturaki' or gang tackle.
We conclude this column with the advice of the week from a Major Taylor in the Hakwa website, Nadroga rugby's Vodafone-sponsored SMS service to fans.
He said:"I would advise all youths aspiring to athletic fame or a professional career to practise clean living, fair play and good sportsmanship."