Down memory lane

The champion Fiji 7s team in Rio. Picture: FT FILE

In 2016, our first Olympic Games gold medal provided a fairytale ending.

Our boys stepped onto the podium to receive their gold medals from Princess Anne as tears flowed freely.

The noise was deafening as Fijians took to the streets to express  their excitement.

The nation was at a halt, everything stopped as celebrations went wild.  That moment is hard to de- scribe and put on paper.

In my  letter (13/08/16) titled Dream comes true I wrote on August 12 will go down in Fiji’s history books. On a chilly Friday morning our  7s heroes grabbed our first Olympics gold medal.

Amid tears, I was left speech- less as I was on the verge of losing  my voice.  It was such an emotional moment, especially seeing our players display pride and passion be- fore, during and after the grueling  encounter with Great Britain, a combination of the flair of Wales, England and Scotland rugby teams.

Now let me capture that epic and historic moment. Fiji and Great Britain were undefeated.  Courageous captain Osea Kolinisau led the boys through the tunnel followed by nippy Jerry Tuwai  and Masivesi Dakuwaqa (our 13  player) who was called in to re- place Savenaca Rawaca.

Our boys entered the pitch with  heaps of confidence not seen previ- ously. Fiji was in their traditional white and black while Great Britain was in red and white.

Rugby commentator Keith Quinn said, “There’s Ben Ryan – the former England coach and the man who has inspired this Fijian side back to the top of the world. Can he take them to the Olympics title? Can  Great Britain’s golden dream continue for another 20 minutes”?

As both sides assembled for the national anthem the match offi cials were introduced.

The referee was Rasta Rasivhenge from South Africa and  he was going to be assisted by an- other South African Marius Van  Der Westhuizen and Nick Briant from NZ.

On their path to the final, Fiji  had defeated Brazil (40-12), Argentina (21-14), USA (24-19), NZ (12-7)  and Japan (20-5), while Great Britain had scraped past Kenya (31-7),  Japan (21-19), NZ (21-19), Argentina (in extra time 5-0) and South  Africa (7-5). Coached by the willy Simon  Amor, Great Britain had a power- packed squad with three players  from Scotland – Mark Robertson, Ruaridh McConnochie and Mark Bennett; two players from Wales – James Davies and Sam Cross; and  the rest from England – Phil Burgess, Dan Norton, James Rodwell,  Tom Mitchell, Dan Bibby, Ollie  Lindsay-Hague and Marcus Wat- son.

Fiji had Apisai Domolailai, Jasa Veremalua, Semi Kunatani, Viliame Mata, Leone Nakarawa, Kiti Taliga, Josua Tuisova, Jerry Tuwai, Samisoni Viriviri, Vatemo  Ravouvou and Masivesi Dakuwaqa.

Ten minutes each way and  one team would scoop the big- gest prize in sports – the Olympic  Games gold medal. It was time for  cool heads to grab every opportunity.

Kolinisau got the first try 55 seconds into the final as Fiji imposed  their will.

This is what Keith Quinn had to say, “Fantastic play  by Kolinisau, but I wonder if the difference is going to be these huge men  (Kunatani, Nakarawa and Jasa) in the low numbers for Fiji as they can make such difference”.  Jerry then cruised his way past  Great Britain’s try-line after receiving a swift off-load from Viri- viri. It was a Fijian side who were at their rampant best.

Two tries within three and half minutes, and Keith Quinn added,  “Brilliantly done by Tuwai but be- fore that in the middle of the field  there were hard hits by Veremalua, Kunatani and Nakarawa, and then it came out to the little man (Jerry)  out-wide by Samisoni Viriviri an- other vastly experienced player. And  look at these big guys.

And there is Viriviri pressing through making the pass. This is a wonderful start by Fiji”. Fiji led 12-0. Veremalua then went into the corner for Fiji’s third try after receiving a sublime pass from  Viriviri. Fiji led 17-0.

Vatemo restarted play and a loose pass from  Dan Norton was collected by Dakuwaqa who off-loaded to Nakara- wa. Nakarawa dotted down in the  corner for Fiji’s fourth try. Great Britain was stung!

The crowd was on their feet! Go Fiji go was chanted! With 32 seconds to go, our playmaker Ravouvou collected another deft offload from Kunatani, and broke from the middle of the park, as he was chased by Tom Mitchell.

Tom could only chase, huffi ng and puffi ng as Ravouvou crossed over for Fiji’s fifth try. This is what Keith Quinn had to say, “What are these Fijians doing for rugby all over the world? Rugby  in the Olympic Games- it is just wonderful to behold.

Our eyes are seeing  the glory of sevens at its very best  and they are doing against an accomplished team. This is just fantastic example of what sevens rugby is  supposed to be”. Fiji led 29-0 at half-time. Fiji was incredible – piling up 29 points  against Great Britain was just unbelievable!  In the second half, our boys continued with the momentum from  the first half and a turnover was  all Fiji needed. Big Kunatani released a beautiful pass to Veremalua who strolled under the post  and passed to Tuisova (who came off the bench) to score our sixth try.  According to Keith Quinn numbers two (Jasa), three (Kunatani)  and five (Nakarawa) had done the damage. He added after Fiji’s sixth try: “It’s fantastic. It’s amazing.

It’s  beautiful thinking.” Fiji was comfortably leading now (36-0). With  about five minutes to go in the second half, Norton scored Great Britain’s lone try- all in the spirit of British rugby. Inside the last minute, and Mata squeezed in for Fiji’s seventh  and last try.

This was brought to Rasivhenge’s attention by his assistant  Nick Briant.” At the final whistle, both commentators concluded that Great Britain was outplayed by Fiji. In his concluding remarks, “The gold medal is thoroughly deserved,  but back home and here, it is a mil- lion smiles from Fiji. Fiji is the Olympic champion and in what style did  they do it!

From the first whistle they utterly dominated this final. And in a campaign like this, it’s a 12-man effort”.

Kisses, handshakes and hugs in Rio and at home! Even our PM  was emotional. South Africa received the bronze medal. The Neil  Powell-coached green machine thrashed Japan (54-14).

There was a special cheer for Great Britain as they received the silver medal. Then the moment in Olympic history for Fiji unfolded.

It had never happened before – we were going to receive our first Olympic gold medal. Our boys brought the world to a standstill as they went down on their knees to receive the medal from Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. In order, the boys received their gold medals – Api, Jasa, Kunatani,  Mata, Nakarawa, Taliga, Kolinisau, Tuisova, Tuwai, Viriviri, Ravouvou and Dakuwaqa.  Keith Quinn admitted that it was the first time for him to see players going down on their knees to receive their medals. Cameras were all on our warriors as they showcased their bula smiles.

Kolinisau couldn’t hold back his emotions as he cried freely. It was a roller-coaster ride for our boys.  Keith Quinn said he could imagine the reception the boys were  going to receive upon their arrival at home. The boys gathered for an official team photo as Chris Cracknell, Nacanieli Cawanibuka, Ropate Kauvesi and Ben Ryan joined the team. When Ben Ryan was lifted up by Apisai Domolailai this is what Keith Quinn had to say: “And that’s the way to honour the coach. Put him up top where he belongs”.

Even PM Bainimarama came down to thank the boys in the true Fijian style. Our PM joined the photo session. It was a truly memorable rugby and memorable national time for Fiji.  The South Pacifi c Island nation’s first Olympic medal was  celebrated wildly at the fi nal  whistle in front of the country’s PM. The rest is history.  Nationwide celebrations start- ed as fi reworks welcomed the  chilly Friday morning – kava flowed freely as every Fijian had a story to tell about the fi nal. I leave you with these lines from my letter that appeared in The Fiji Times (13/08/16) titled ‘Dream comes true’ – “Isa, thank you boys for the win! We never lacked the lung power in a country (Brazil) mile away from home as our fans did an astonishing  job in ensuring their voices outnum- bered those from Britain.

We must  be thankful to coach Ben Ryan and his team management- Rob Kauvesi,  Chris Cracknell and Naca Cawani- buka for trimming the team in tip  top form and ensuring that there were no off the fi eld incidents. Fiji’s victory was written in heaven and seeing our PM among the patriotic fans waving our fl ag was a delight to watch. It is indeed a proud moment for all Fijians.

This victory united  Fiji and the sound of fi reworks dis- play added to the sweetness of the  victory. I am very proud especially when I have been rewarded with this special victory.

This win will surely be the talk for days, weeks and years to come. Thank you boys for the gold medal! Thank you boys for making my dream come true”! Our boys have a mammoth task  on hand, but, yes, we have the armoury to defend the title.  We have a power-packed squad – full of speed, skills, experience and flair, plus, the prayers and support of every Fijian.  All the best to our heroes in To- kyo! Toso Viti, toso!

RAJNESH LINGAM is the head of department of language at Nabua Secondary School. He is  also a contributor to this news- paper. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper or his employer.

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