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Biggest chance

Kameli Rakoko
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

OPPORTUNITY sometimes comes only once in a lifetime and often it is at somebody else's misfortune.

For former school track star Batinisavu Uluiyata his sudden selection to replace New Zealand 7s hero Alasio Naduva in Las Vegas this weekend could be the best chance to establish himself into Gareth Baber's first lineup. He should grab the chance with both hands.

He has been in the national 7s squad since last season, but missed out on selection to take over the wing spot in the Fiji Airways Fiji 7s team.

The Bemana, Navosa man hit the headlines in athletics in 2014 for Natabua High School when he scooped the middle-distance events in the Coca-Cola Games and had the best 400 metres times in the Pacific, better than that of Papua New Guinea champs who dominated regional and Oceania meets.

He then spent a season playing rugby in France and is back. Last week he was playing for Senirusi Seruvakula's Fiji Warriors side and made some good breaks.

Eroni Sau will be the top choice winger in Vegas and Uluiyata may come in as impact player at winger or at rover and the opposition focus will be on the players who took Fiji to the title win in Hamilton.

That's where Uluiyata comes in. A couple of breaks from anywhere in the field will showcase the great pace he has. We have seen him accelerate to the tape in track meets with no one else in sight metres from him.

He is definitely an out-and-out gas man in the mould of Banuve Tabakaucoro who is learning the ropes from the Black Pearl, Manasa Bari in the Police 7s squad.

Naduva's absence can also be a blessing for Baber. We have seen what he could create on the field and preserve him for more important tournaments such as the Commonwealth Games.

If someone can catch up to tackle runaway sprinters on the field then it is Uluiyata.

USA's fast men Perry Baker and Carlin Elyse only take off fast and in Sydney even Jerry Tuwai chased Baker and caught him, denying him a try.

Running in rugby is far different from running on the track. You have a ball in hand and you have to make sure you maintain a good grip while listening to the thudding boots behind you. In athletics you fear the man behind you because he may overtake you and beat you to the tape.

In rugby the fear is for your life and physical survival. The runner behind you may hit you like a bamboo spear or grab you by the jersey and ride on your back like Santa Claus on his sledge.

You would be lucky if the weather is wet and the grass is thick. But it hardly rains in the desert of Nevada and hitting the ground with a Fijian tackler on top one could name it the "Abraham touch". Because you could get a million stars in your head and uncountable sand in your mouth.

So the message is not to give up chasing someone running with a rugby ball even if it is Baker, Tuwai has proven.

The avid readers of this columns have indicated that they enjoy the little side stories that come with it. They are often the funny side to this tough game of rugby and this column wishes good health to the sick and quick recovery to the Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho who enjoys reading rugby analysis and to our Fiji 7s team to smile and relax in Vegas because that's when they are the most lethal.

In the sixties, seventies and eighties Kadavu was a top Suva senior A club and produced numerous Suva and national reps such as Tuimasi Tubananitu and the Musunamasi brothers Ilai and Kemueli.

After completing our club game one Saturday I was asked to play for their colts side to make up the numbers as they were short of players.

To my surprise I was told at halftime by the coach Asesela that I was passing the ball too many times and should run straight at the opposition. If he falls to the ground I should kick his head a little (caqeta toka valalai nona qavota) He said the club's motto was "nomu liga nomu laga", literally means use your hands and your feet.

One Saturday our YMCA/SYC team played Kadavu in the main game at Albert Park and their first-five eighth sliced through to score and since the women cheering squad lined up the dead-ball line he made a spectacular dive into the air with one hand on the ball and I had kept up the chase. As it happened he lost the ball in midair.

As he tried to get up and make the touchdown I was also sliding beside him to reach for the ball which rolled straight under the big ankle-length skirt of a large Kadavu woman cheering squad member, who was struggling to get out of the way. It was like a pileup in a road accident and everyone roared with uncontrollable mirth.

The rest I leave to your kind imagination. The only casualty, the tauvu with the biggest smile trying not to laugh as they showered me with all the island dialect's expletives as I tried to retrieve the rugby ball.

The message for our boy in Vegas is to maintain the intensity in defence and attack and at the moment some coaches will still class them after the Hamilton 7s win as just "one-hit wonders".

Las Vegas is where Baber's men have to prove that they have the mental toughness to be consistent week in, week out. Achieving that will give them a cloak of invincibility that wins 50 per cent of the psychological battle before kickoff just at the sight of Fijian players. Go Fiji go!

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