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Fijians give life to Aussie rugby

Kameli Rakoko
Saturday, January 18, 2014

WHERE Fiji's wild footballers will stagger our tacticians, screamed the front page headline of The Rugby News magazine of July 1952 in Australia.

The headline of the story on the inside cover read Fijians take Sydney by Storm after the Fiji rugby side defeated South Harbour in the opening match of the tour that revived rugby union in Australia.

Fijian flamboyant rugby caught Australia by storm and the crowd began filling the stands. In the second Test a record 42,000 people watched the game and it was a rugby union revival as only 4000 watched the Wallabies play the New Zealand All Blacks in 1951.

Here is the match report of the first game by Fiji in 1952:

The defeat of the strong South Harbour XV in their opening game and the manner in which it was accomplished has aroused unprecendented interest in Rugby Union circles in their Sydney Cricket Ground debut next Saturday against the full strength of New South Wales.

Those people who have the chance (and those unfortunate ones who do not have the chance) will miss a rare treat if they miss seeing the Fijian players in action.

Today Manly extended the warmest welcome to these delightful islanders headed by Ratu George Cakobau and the co-managers, Messrs Les Martin and Pat Raddock.

Manly and its beaches have won a reputation overseas and the Fijians themselves were eager to see such a world famous spot once they knew they were to tour Australia.

But the Fijians have not been more eager to see Manly than the Manly residents have been to see them and whatever reputation Manly has will gain added lustre through the Fijians playing one of their matches on Manly Oval.

In that opening game the Fijians immediately won the hearts of the Sydney public and this happy crowd of native players is expected to win further popularity wherever they go.

Not only the Rugby Union but all North Sydney patrons last Saturday are indebted and grateful to the tourists for putting on such a grand show.

North Sydney has never had such a wonderful day nor been entertained with such an amazingly colouful display.

Above all the Fijians played the game in a carefree attitude and spirit that potrayed all the best in amateur sport.

Endowed with exceptional speed, superbly conditioned and of magnificent physique, the Fijians were most striking in appearance and spectacular in their play.

They were so big and of immense strength that they certainly hurt when they clashed with our South Harbour representatives but there was no semblance whatever of viciousness in their play.

The public sensed by their behavior that although they were so huge and strong they were kind by nature and this was one of the main reasons they won the esteem of the spectators.

South Harbour players led by John Solomon, ably performed their part and everyone admired their good showing against the tough Fijians, who dwarfed them.

The brilliant runs of South Harbour centre Herb Barker, the stout and solid resistance of fullback Ray Calbert were among the highlights in a memorable game.

Those who crammed into every inch of North Sydney enjoyed not only the way the Fijians played the game but the barracking and singing of fellow Fijians string band. All these added to the gaiety of the afternoon and was in keeping with the occasion.

Barracking in the Fijian language over a loudspeaker provided a novel and most unusual touch.

Nor were the Fijians alone the most excited and thoroughly aroused spectators at the game. Rugby Union followers, usually the most phlegmatic of sporting crowds, gave vent to their feelings as they have never done before.

The forecast by Justice Herron, president of the Australian and NSW Rugby Union, at the official welcome of the Fijians last Thursday, that our visitors would be a 'blood transfusion to Australian Rugby Union' has quickly been fulfilled.

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