Brawls and broken jaws
15 February, 2014, 12:00 am
THE second Fiji tour of Australia in 1954 did not have the good nature of the first tour of 1952 and the first Test was marred by brawls as the Aussies resorted to foul play to distract the Fijians.
In 1952 the Aussies started flocking back to watch rugby union and in the second Test that Fiji won, it recorded a massive 42,000 spectators in the stand compared with the mere 4000 that watched Australia play the New Zealand All Blacks in 1951.
Fijian rugby got a following that some Aussies of that time still follow the Fijian rugby team around the world.
As was the case of the Aussie dentist, once retold in this column, who I travelled on the plane with in 1992 to watch the Hong Kong 7s.
He had two clinics — one in Sydney and one in Hong Kong — and travelled to Hong Kong just to watch Fiji play.
He got stuck into Fijian rugby after watching the 1952 and 1954 sides and after an exhibition of physical strength in rugby by Joe Levula in a game against New South Wales.
They had a fullback who was a bodybuilder and advertised a health food on Aussie television saying “Eat this and you will have a body like mine.”
He was a fearsome tackler. But Levula ran through his tackles three times to score three tries and three times also the medics had to be called in to revive the Aussie fullback.
According to a story by Maika Bolatiki in an interview with halfback SuliasiVatubua in the Boot magazine printed by Daily Post in the 90s, the 1954 tour was different from any other tour as the Nadi International Airport was opened.
(The weekly magazine was a breeding ground for many top journalists now editors in the two dailies.)
They travelled by seaplane to New Zealand in 1951 and to Australia by seaplane in 1952 but they travelled out of Nadi Airport in 1954.
The trip took nine hours compared with the 13-and -a-half hours by seaplane from Laucala Bay in 1952.
Also in 1954 the Aussies had tried out new tactics of tackling Levula but he continued his big runs and tryscoring like before.
However, they often knocked the ball out of his arms as they did in the first Test with the score at Fiji 19 and Australia 22.
Levula had three men on the inside but opted to take the tackle and lost the ball in the final seconds of the game.
However, the culprit, according to Vatubua was the hot-headed Fijian fullback Taniel Ranavue who gave away 11 penalties.
Ranavue began a big brawl after he had been watching helplessly from the back as a big Australian prop of Lebanese origin NM Shehadie was throwing punches in the scrum, rucks and mauls.
Ranavue called out: “Someone has to punch that prop, he has been using a lot of foul tactics. (Me dua e vacuka mada natamata oqori sa rui levu tiko nona qito ca).”
But no one was heeding his advice.
In the ensuing scrum Sheadie threw another punch and the Fiji fullback took off from 20 metres to give the Lebanese a punch on the face while the scrum was formed.
It sparked off a brawl with Sheadie receiving attention with a big black eye. The fight was stopped and the game continued like nothing had happened.
In the same 1954 tour of Australia Vatubua became the first overseas player to score 100 points on Aussie soil by an outside player.