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Fiji at heart

Rashneel Kumar In Hong Kong
Saturday, March 29, 2014

VEREIMI Vakatawa would have preferred to play for the Vodafone Fiji 7s side in the Hong Kong 7s tournament this weekend.

But destiny has something else in store for the 21-year-old France-based player.

Vakatawa made his debut for the French 7s side in the Tokyo 7s in Japan last weekend where he faced his own countrymen in the pool play.

"It was an honour to play against my country," the Racing Metro 92 winger said.

When Times Sport asked him which team he would have preferred to play, Vakatawa immediately said "I will go for Fiji".

But despite being rated as one of the prolific finishers in the French Top 14 competition, the former Nasinu Secondary School student said playing against Fiji was not easy.

"We have so much talent in Fiji and it's hard to go back and try to be part of the team. There are thousands of players who are competing for a place in the Fiji team," the former Fiji under-18 rep said.

Vakatawa became eligible to represent France last year after spending more than two years in the country.

He joined Racing Metro in 2010 and has become one of the regulars for the Paris-based club.

Vakatawa said his focus was now to play for the French 15s side.

"I already played for France (in sevens) so I have to stick with them. I have to work hard to don the 15s jersey because there are some good players in the French team and it's not easy making that side," the Naluwai lad said.

"Right now, I'm just concentrating in 7s and looking forward to playing in my first-ever Hong Kong 7s tournament this weekend.

"I have to work on my fitness a little bit and see what happens after that."

France is pooled with South Africa, Australia and Spain in Pool B.

In a bid to adapt in France, Vakatawa has to learn French and now speaks the language fluently.

He said it took him two years to learn the language.

"French is a bit hard to learn and it took me two years to learn the language.

"We have classes every Monday and Thursday in my club and not only me but all the players from the other parts of the world attend the classes."

Vakatawa said he was not as huge as other Fijian players who were quite popular in France.

"Not that much (famous) because I live in Paris and Paris is a very big city and rugby there is not that big compared to other clubs in the South because there, they have people who love rugby," he said.

Vakatawa said he usually got to meet other Fijian players when they played against each other.

"Normally after the game we meet to have a bit of grog and some chicken curry," he added with a laugh.

"Although we don't meet regularly, it's always good catching up with them and talking about home."

For his young fans back home, Vakatawa said "if you know you have talent, work hard on it and listen to your coaches. Stay fit and don't drink too much alcohol and kava".