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Fiji Time: 8:35 AM on Friday 25 April

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Fiji's first rugby star

Kameli Rakoko
Saturday, December 21, 2013

LAST week we saw how three Fijians rewrote New Zealand rugby history by being included in the New Zealand Rugby Almanack following their grand performances in 1951.

However, the first Fijian to be named in the NZ rugby almanack was none other than Josaia Voreqe of Bau, Tailevu in Fiji's unbeaten tour there in 1939.

He went by the initials of JBVoreqe, which was Josaia Bainimarama Voreqe.

In the late '70s he was in New Zealand for a visit and popped into a newspaper office requesting photos of the 1939 tour.

The rugby writer in the newspaper interviewed him and wrote a piece on him saying he was not only a member of the 1939 team. In fact he was the hero.

JB Voreqe was the only non-Kiwi among the five men who were selected to be the best five players in New Zealand in 1939.

Voreqe was a winger and he had speed and agility to also top score for his team in the famous tour.

He played for Defence in the Suva Rugby Union, a height of 1m 78 (5'9) and weighed 82.5kg (13st).

He began his rugby career in 1938 playing all three Tests against the touring Maori and scored his first try in the second Test which Fiji won 11-6.

In the 1939 tour, he scored a try against the Maori in the 11-0 win in Bay of Plenty, two tries against Auckland winning 17-11, one try each against Nelson, Ashburton Country and the 14-4 win over the Maori in their second match.

Voreqe's last match was the 19-9 win against Tonga where he also scored a try.

Looking back on Fiji's association with New Zealand rugby, rugby writer Paul Neazor of Skysport.co.nz in an article in June this year said: "New Zealand really became involved with Fijian rugby in the 1930s.

The standard of Fijian rugby surprised New Zealand critics, who noted: "The islanders showed that they had a wonderful knowledge of the game, and were possessed of speedy men." The national team was comprised exclusively of native Fijians.

In 1939: Fiji made their first tour of New Zealand and caused a major surprise for the second time in two years, this time by remaining unbeaten.

They were the first team to complete a tour of New Zealand without defeat and remain the only touring side to play a significant number of matches without a loss.

Although hampered by wet, muddy conditions for the first seven matches the tourists did well, beating good sides in Auckland, Buller, North Auckland and King Country.

They played New Zealand Maori in the final match and struck a dry ground for the only time on tour, turning on an exciting exhibition of running rugby and winning easily.

The Rugby Almanack noted the Fijians' "superior pace, combination and tactics, as well as superb handling".

The almanack also noted the visitors could teach New Zealand players several things about "low, hard tackling, dribbling, long line-kicking, backing-up and fielding the ball cleanly, as well as the value of physical fitness".

According to Fiji Rugby Union website, Fiji's captain for that tour, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, decided that his side should have a war dance to rival the haka. He approached Ratu Bola, the high chief of the warrior clan of Navusaradave in Bau, who taught them the cibi which has been Fiji's pre-match ritual ever since.

With many players still preferring to play barefoot, the Fijians played with a care-free spirit and created history by becoming the first team to go through a full tour of New Zealand unbeaten, winning seven and drawing one, a record that stands to this day. They played and beat the Maori again 14-4.

The feature of this team was, it was said that it had representatives from all 14 provinces of Fiji.

Maybe, something for our current selectors to ponder.