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Rugby interest on the rise in Taveuni

Kameli Rakoko
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

EVER since First Light Taveuni 7s team came out of the blue to scoop the 2017 Coral Coast Sevens rugby title at Lawaqa Park, Sigatoka in January, rugby sevens in Taveuni has spread like wildfire.

The team captured the imagination of the thousands of young men, not only in Taveuni and the North, but all over the country when they beat everybody including established giants of local rugby 7s such as Saunaka, Yamacia, Yasawa Flyers, Police and Wardens in the final.

Here was a group of village-based players who had been making a name for themselves in Vanua Levu and Taveuni and had never tried their prowess against Viti Levu teams until they came for the qualifiers.

Even though the tournaments were small, the First Light team collected the scalps of 7s tourneys in Savusavu, Labasa and surrounding areas and developed a winning combination.

They were in peak form and went into camp at Rukurukulevu Village, the base of the champion Davetalevu rugby side, World Club 7s champions.

Daveta fans turned from blue to green and with the Taveuni counterparts gave vocal support and singing that rattled the knees of opposition teams.

First Light refers to the 180 degrees Meridian Line that runs through the island, but the focus and their source of strength is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is their light and guide without whom they would not have been able to achieve what they have done so far, says president Maika Levaci.

"He is our First Light," Levaci emphasised.

The win at the Coral Coast was a greatly celebrated one in Taveuni and merrymaking went on for days.

Levaci said it was a great exposure of sevens rugby to young men living in villages and now sevens teams had mushroomed all over the island and compete in tournaments in Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.

Cross of Victory won the Nawaka Sevens soon after and other teams such as Somosomo Sharks, Lavena and Taveuni are top 7s teams in the North.

Three players from First Light are in Gareth Baber's Barbarians 7s team and skipper Lepani Tulele, who won the best and fairest player award at the Coral Coast Sevens, and played for Fiji 7s team, is now a globetrotting 7s player. He is on tour with the Daveta rugby club in Singapore after having taken part in the Central Coast Sevens.

Eroni Vucago, Anare Tevita and Alekisio Vakarorogo have proven themselves to be key members of Baber's national sevens squad because of their fitness, discipline in the recent Central Coast Sevens, coach Vilikesa said.

President Levaci said his side suffered a major setback when their visa was rejected by the Australian Embassy.

"We lost around $10,000 in our failed visa application," Levaci said.

"We do not have any major sponsor and are supported by the Lion of Judah farming community in Taveuni."

Levaci said their players were law-abiding and they and a couple of other clubs became the scapegoats of other team's visa violation and differences with the Australian authorities.

However, they have been helped by Jack's Qaqa brand with a sponsorship of $5000 in clothing and training gear and they were grateful for the support and would do their best to maintain winning form.

After two weeks training at the Sigatoka sand dunes and based at Volivoli Village, they recently won the Seabreeze sevens tournament in Ovalau and lost to Saunaka in the final of the Labasa CMF sevens.

Their next big focus is winning the Raka Sevens in November, which has a total prizemoney of $25,000 and before that they will also take part in other small tournaments, including one in Rakiraki this weekend.

While the current wave of interest is on seven rugby perhaps Fiji rugby administrators in the North or from the North who are based in Suva should step out to develop the game into a full fifteens competition.

The same players previously unknown who were playing in the same Coral Coast Sevens tournament at Lawaqa had developed overnight in the fifteens code to become household names in rugby.

Two members of the Davetalevu rugby club who were playing in the sevens were Ratunaisa Navuma, Avete Daveta, Saunaka's Samu Saqiwa, Army and Police players have made up the core of Fiji Airways Drua team, making their name known in international rugby.

Those players had 15s competition to join after the 7s and Navuma is now in John McKee's Flying Fijian side to tour Europe this month.

Now that ten Drua players are eyed by overseas clubs major union clubs may have to recruit young men in the sevens circuit from the rural and the islands to feed this growing demand.

For one they are already fit and all it would take is game time to gain experience.








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