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The heron has landed

Kameli Rakoko
Sunday, August 20, 2017

SCHOOLS rugby has totally evolved in the past forty years from just being an extra-curricular activity to become a modern sporting industry which generates money and a spirit of community among great masses of people across the country.

Every second term of school parents, old scholars and rugby fans follow their school teams around cheering, providing the essential sporting gear and team up with teachers and even criticise and analyse the performance of teams. Words are spread around and immediate families and extended families join the crowd on the embankment to get their weekly fixation.

Watching the schools rugby competition from the quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals it has totally being revolutionised by the big sponsorship of Coke Zero, crowd support from parents, teachers, fans and old scholars.

It has become an industry involving the business community, schools and students flamed by increased communication technology especially the social media.

Throughout my six years of boarding school at Ratu Kadavulevu School from the late sixties to the seventies, the only time our parents heard from us was when we wrote a letter asking money for bus fare for the holidays.

The amount of sponsorship money won by RKS in the finals last week the players would have travelled by taxis to their homes. But times surely have greatly changed.

Teachers and prefects were the parents in that exclusive society up to the seventies and perhaps eighties. There was no communication to the outside world and teachers still carrying around their World War II hangover in dishing out punishment got away with it, while students ran their own activities, some were caught and expelled some were not. Other activities are best buried with the past in the vakalavalava lovo.

However, boarding school boys in that era did not have to wear headgear because their skulls were hardened by the daily diet of i qou or kivi, knuckle on the head, from senior boys and prefects. You carry the legacy as you rise in rank. If they became great sidesteppers it's because they learned to put a break before the head gets hit by the outstretched clenched fist and duck as that knuckle further extends its reach, as it always does.

With more transparency, tougher school rules and ban on corporal punishment discipline has become the byword and the education ministry has seen it followed to the letter.

When it came to playing rugby the captain was a coach/player and the teacher sometimes turned up to give a couple of tips on skills and sometimes just came to say the final words before kickoff.

There were other teachers who were more dedicated like the ones we see nowadays. The match day diet was always bread with corned beef and cordial in big aluminum cans.

No sponsor came to buy you a boot, track suit of shorts.

The same jerseys worn by students of five years ago was the match-day garb, but boy, what inspiration it provided when you put it on smelling fresh from laundry mixed with the blood, sweat and tears of your predecessors of past battles still lingering in the tough hooped blue and yellow jumper.

Teams of most rugby schools that took part wear a new set of jerseys every year. Some have separate ones for semi-finals and the finals.

As the big Lodoni crowd turned up in different range of printed colours to show their support for their school you can tell an old Lodonian from those among the crowd. They are not used to wearing their emblem outside but it's always there in their hearts or in small prints on their shirts.

However, these colourful T-shirts, sulu, and flags have become essential in many ways. It brings about a form of comradeship among supporters and encourages players to see the great support who are wearing the school colours and who are roaring their voice boxes hoarse.

It is also essential in terms of raising funds to go towards the teams to provide the modern diet of fruit, vegetables and white meat and it is expected from parents, old scholars and supporters.

RKS fullback St George Sisitalei missed several goal attempts in the quarter-finals against Marist and Degei House old scholars had a quick 'put in' and a new set of rugby boots was bought, sent and used in the semi-finals and final.

Compare that to the big black patched up boots of our fullback Jolame Ratu in 1974 so when he kicked from the back you were prepared to duck for cover in case the boot followed the ball and landed on your back as it sometimes did. But those big black safety boot look-alike stayed tied to Ratu's feet and denied St John's College a spot in the final under wet and windy conditions with a score of people watching from under the trees at Suva Grammar School grounds. The big Nadroumai villager from Nadroga kicked a drop goal from halfway and RKS won 3-0 and it was still heavy from the mud and wet that he missed the tackle of the QVS winning try in the final a week later.

With that kind of support across the schools rugby is expected to go up another dimension in the New Year, not only in terms of intense excitement but the level of rugby skills.

Regarded by top RKS coach Nacanieli Saumi as the rugby factory of Fiji lying idle for 70 plus years, it may have just been reawakened after the Saiyaro boys scooped all Coke Zero-sponsored trophies including the 'holy grail' of schools rugby, the under-18 Deans prize last weekend.

The bar has just been raised another notch and the Lodonians have thrown down the gauntlet to the other schools. Not only in winning the trophies but in the way they did it. They were so disciplined, even though they copped a couple of yellow cards in the grades they maintained composure that the opposition had to resort to foul play and in the under-19 grade, Lelean players could not hold back their frustrations and threw punches and police had to rush in. The Lelean seniors should have learnt from their juniors who waited at the entrance after the prizegiving to shake the hands of the RKS players.

So expect schools like Queen Victoria, Marist, Davuilevu, Grammar and West giants Cuvu, Ratu Navula and Natabua to respond and take the challenge head-on in 2018.

Now all six schools grade rugby trophies will be spending Christmas at the foot of Delainakaikai Mountains, basking in the Tailevu-ni-siga sunshine, feeling the cool breeze of the tradewinds blowing from across the choppy seas of Ovalau with the misty mountains of Moturiki looming in the background.

They will be enjoying the breathtaking views across the rolling hills of South Farm at the foothills of the majestic Delainakaikai, the source of several creeks that weave their way through the Saiyaro plains providing irrigation to plantations and livestock.

If there was a special Moo, Moo, Maa welcome provided by the fat cows grazing on the roadside on Saturday night or Oink, Oink from Etula's piggery it would have been for the under-15 trophy, who missed the last get-together in 1992.

RKS also scooped six trophies in 1992 which included the U14, U16, U17, U18, the Deans trophy contested in the U19 and the U20.

U19 skipper was Etuate Lasaro who will become an ordained Methodist Church Minister this Sunday.

U20 skipper was Kelepi Bisi and U18 skipper Nemani Susu works with NGOs up Nadarivatu whose son Livai Natave was the loosehead for QVS U18.

U17 skipper Saula Vuniaga, U16 skipper Tevita Vuiyasawa and U14 skipper was Meli Ratulawa.

Parents, teachers and old scholars had a great feast down at Lodoni.

A similar kind of feast was held in 1973 hosted by the school under principal George Guivalu after RKS won the inter-secondary schools athletics, the U19 Deans trophy plus bantam and junior grades and including the soccer team led by Eroni Tokailagi and Apisai Sesewa who later became a national sevens rep to Hong Kong.

The soccer team beat Saraswati in the final to take home the Mistry Cup.

The old fighting spirit renowned of Lodoni was highlighted in the finals. Except for the U14 and U18 grades RKS had to come from behind in dramatic fashion in all games to win by a couple of points.

In the U15 QVS led 17-0 and a penalty plus three tries later RKS won 18-17. Put this name down, Ratu Waisea Maka, as the budding national rugby winger of the future.

The 15-year-old scored three unconverted second half tries in the second half to lift RKS from 3-17 down to 18-17 in the final whistle. He has been averaging two tries in all matches.

In the U16 match Lelean scored first and RKS fought back to win 22-18.

In the U19 they trailed 0-13 to Lelean in the first half and came back to win 14-13.

In the U17 Lelean scored first and led 8-3 and RKS came back with two unconverted tries and a penalty to win 16-13.

In the U18 QVS were outmuscled in the scrums, outjumped in the line-outs and were pinned in their half and bombarded by the Lodoni high balls and grounded by ball and all tackles and kept losing possession.

When Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon he reported back "the eagle has landed", meaning mission accomplished.

Other schools will have their turn in years to come but 2017 will be remembered as the year the heron landed —— mission accomplished.

The heron's and school adage of dui mate ga ena nona ucu ni vatu now comes into play as other schools look to wrest the trophies in 2018 and RKS to defend each one of them with their very own lives.

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