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Fiji Time: 7:36 PM on Friday 25 April

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Rivalry here to stay

Kameli Rakoko
Thursday, December 19, 2013

THE revived East-West rugby competition has been successfully completed and it was always a competitive highlight of the local rugby competition in past years and the Fiji Sports Council and administrators should be commended for playing their role.

However, the matches usually came earlier in the season to serve as a trial to select the national side or a feature during the annual Hibiscus Festival, played at Albert Park.

Sometimes in soggy conditions as was always the case with Hibiscus festivals, the mud was washed down with players from both teams at Albert Park ground five, the name given to the Grand Pacific Hotel public bar.

The rivalry was more intense when it was competition for a place in the national side and crowds came to witness the spectacle.

While it did not draw as much a crowd this first year it will surely build up to regain the prestige it acquired in the former years.

One of the reasons the East and West teams were regarded highly was because they served as Fiji B teams and were always pitted against touring teams such as England, Wales and the New Zealand Maoris.

In 1984 Wales faced a tough Test in a mid-week match facing West at Churchill Park and so did England on their last tour here in 1991.

The 1984 West team can be remembered for a fine backline display and by an incisive run by second-five Viliame Tani from his own half.

The outside backs of Sakaraia Nacaka and Kaiava Salusalu continually made inroads into the opposition defence.

The 1991 England-West side will be remembered for a torpedo, kamikaze style head clash between West second-five Savenaca Aria and English number eight Chris Sheasby at Churchill Park.

Sheasby had taken off from a scrum, head tucked in low and heading for the tryline for a sure try. But Aria dove from the air and torpedoed down hitting Sheasby with a head-to-head clash. Sheasby crash landed onto the dry and hard Churchill Park turf, his face ground into the dirt, a few feet short from the tryline.

Touring teams that came to Fiji always found playing the East or West side as tough as the tests themselves.

In 1973 an East combination made up of Suva and Rewa players administered a fearful hiding, winning 39-9 (seven tries) in what remains one of New Zealand Maori's biggest defeats.

Coach of the local side was former All Black halfback Chris Laidlaw, who was in Fiji on a diplomatic posting.

Eight of the Maori tourists including Ken Going, George Skudder, Buff Milner, Eddie Stokes, Bob Barber, Billy Bush, Kent Lambert and Tane Norton won full All Black honours during their careers.

This tour marked the re-emergence of Maori rugby after a period in the doldrums, with coach Waka Nathan a leading figure in the revival.

East won the game last Saturday but West won the overall points after a drawn first clash with West winning the second match at Lawaqa while East made amends in the third 26-19 over West.

But the overall title was won by the West because they had accumulated more points than East in the competition.

Both teams drew 22-all in the first match, West won the second clash 35-21 and their 19-26 loss gave them a total of 76 points while East finished with 69.

We definitely look forward to the series growing bigger in the future as it will provide more top level game time for local players.

It is something we badly need.