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Indelible mark

Maciu Malo
Saturday, February 03, 2018

RUGBY players come and go but some leave behind indelible mark for their fans and younger generation to cherish.

One such player that had stamped his mark as one of the best utility backline players in the 70s is Aminiasi Naituyaga Sr, the younger brother of the late former Nadroga and national rep Senitiki Nasave.

Many young rugby fans might be mixing up with the name of that the late "Steelman" and former Rugby Sevens World Cup winner Aminiasi Naituyaga (late) as they both hailed from the same village in Nasama, Nadroga.

But to those that remember Naituyaga Sr, he was an integral member of the invincible Nadroga team that ruled the Fiji rugby, winning the prestigious Farebrother Sullivan trophy for nine consecutive years from 1967 to 1979.

He was also part of the Nadroga team that lost grip of this famous silverware to Lautoka which ended their nine-year reign.

He later joined his late brother Nasave in the national team — an experience he always treasured.

In an interview with this newspaper, Naituyaga said dedication, sheer hard work and sacrifices contributed to his rugby success.

He also credits his achievement to the Almighty God for blessing him with the rugby talent that separated him from other top players in the country.

Most importantly he did not give up despite the many challenges and obstacles he endured early in life.

"To be successful you need to be a good listener and to follow the instructions of your coaches," said Naituyaga.

"This will complement the hard work and sacrifices to nurture a player to become a complete and a successful rugby ambassador.

"I believe the above factors really motivated me to be the person I am today."

Nadroga rugby dominance and the Farebrother trophy 'heartache'

Inspired by the success of his late brother Senitiki Nasave, Naituyaga climbed through the grades to join Nasave in the main Nadroga team.

He said he was proud to play alongside Nasave in his provincial side and helped to create history by winning the coveted silverware for nine consecutive years — a feat no other team in Fiji has ever achieved.

Naituyaga said playing the Farebrother trophy meant a lot to the players and all players laid their bodies on the line for this rugby jewel.

He labelled the rugby battle against traditional rival Nadi as the toughest he had encountered during his provincial rugby heydays.

"Playing against Nadi was always tough and almost every game ended in a brawl," said Naituyaga.

"Nadi had some tough and big players such as Jo Sovau, Sela Toga and the likes who are always hard to play against.

"Sovau was one player that always started the brawl because of some tactics used during scrums and mauls that intimidated the oppositions.

"But after the game we shook hands and treated our opponents as brothers again — this makes rugby so enjoyable."

Naituyaga said the Nadroga side also defeated some touring teams such as Tonga, New Zealand Maori.

"These touring teams defeated the national team but when they toured Nadroga we always beat them. I believe it was also the support from the vanua and the spiritual bonding within the players made us successful in those days."

He, however, admitted the heartbreaking loss to Lautoka in 1979 that ended their Farebrother reign was the worst memorable moment of his career.

"I think we underestimated Lautoka in that game."

"I was playing full back in that game and I can vividly remember seeing my teammates cry after the final whistle.

"I just could not hide my emotions as tears dropped down my cheeks knowing we have lost our precious rugby jewel.

"The Farebrother was part of us and it was painful to see the trophy being taken away."

National team and the memories

Despite being named to attend the national team trials he refused to go because he knew he would be playing against his brother.

He said he first made his big break after his late brother Nasave made the biggest sacrifice not to attend the trials.

"We were both named for the trials and I was surprised to hear Save ordering me to attend the trials."

"He said he won't attend trials because he wanted me to also try out a spot in the national team.

"This gives me the opportunity to prove my worth and I was humbled to be chosen in the national team.

"I first played for Fiji in 1972 against the Wallabies — we were winning before the Aussies scored from a drop goal to win the game."

Naituyaga was later joined by his brother few years later including their tour to Australia in 1976.

"It was a humbling moment for the family to see both of us in the same Fiji team."

"Nasave always encouraged me to give my best and seeing him next to me really made me work hard.

"It was a huge moment for the family because we are not only representing Nadroga but representing our family in the national team."

He said Fiji's tour to New Zealand was also one of the unforgettable moments of his rugby career.

"In our days, playing for Fiji was like going to battle and we always laid our bodies on the line for the people of Fiji.

"When the team loses, players sometime exchanged heated arguments after the game and even ended in a brawl.

"During our New Zealand tour we lost to Otago in one of our matches — after the game, one of the players whom I don't want to name walked up to one of our teammates and punched him in the face — claiming he dropped the ball that would have won us that game.

"That was how painful it was when Fiji lost a game."

Naituyaga said rugby had transformed a lot compared with his days but the recipe for success remained the same.

"Rugby has changed a lot but the factors that groom a successful player will not change."

"Sheer hard work, discipline, commitment and a good listener will successfully guide any player to be successful," he added.

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