Down memory lane

Colo-i-Suva captain Sakiusa Bai lifts the Fiji Bitter Marist 7s shield in 1996 at the then National Stadium in Suva. Picture: SUPPLIED

Colo-i-Suva captain Sakiusa Bai lifts the Fiji Bitter Marist 7s shield in 1996 at the then National Stadium in Suva. Picture: SUPPLIED

FROM the development of grassroots rugby to the unveiling of natural raw talents, from an idea that developed around the grog bowl, to just a number of teams who battled for the five cartons of beer that was the prize 42 years ago. Deemed the mecca of local rugby sevens competition, the Fiji Bitter Marist 7s has come a long way to where it is today.

Over the years the Marist 7s has grown and given so much to the country.

The article that follows is dedicated to the late former journalist Robert Matau. Robert was a member of the tournament’s media team and he wrote this article before succumbing to sickness that later on resulted in his untimely passing.

This is the story of the Fiji Bitter Marist 7s.

From the hills and sandy beaches of Cawaci to the concrete jungles of Suva’s urban jungle — banded scholars of two prominent Catholic schools formed one of Suva and Fiji’s most prolific rugby clubs. But the group that catapulted the club to fame was the Cawaci sector playing under the St John’s College Old Boys banner clad in the familiar light blue hoops and white shorts — famous St John’s school colours.

Legendary Fiji rugby skipper Pio ‘Bosco’ Tikoisuva recalls how the bonding was forged in Cawaci on the island of Ovalau during a 45-minute truck ride from the Old Capital of Levuka.

“The reason it was so easy to form a common bond was that unlike other boarding and educational institutions around the country, we only had about 100 plus students and we all knew each other,” Bosco said.

“It was survival of the fittest at school — we ate a lot of vegetables but we had our own dairy — milk supply was plentiful.

“For us boys who came from coastal areas we would go fishing as far as Makogai to dive for fish and that was where we got our Sunday lunch.

“We would take our primus stove, kakana dina (root crops or breadfruit) and eat first before we went out diving.”

The other students would go to dig up wild yams and tivoli in the hilltop jungles surrounding the school. But rugby was the top sport they played well in Cawaci apart from athletics and hockey.

“When we played inter-house rugby we would have our own version of the ambulance on standby,” Bosco said.

“Those injured would be rushed off in the ambulance to be looked at, that ambulance was actually a wheelbarrow.”

A band of old scholars started up the St John’s rugby club in Suva where they had secured employment after surviving the school of hard knocks in Cawaci. Led by the late George Reade (considered the father of the club and sevens rugby in Fiji), the club competed against formidable teams such as Lomavata, Castaway, Police and Army who were among a few pioneering Suva rugby teams that would slug it out (literally and physically) on the rugby pitch and then band together in their favourite nightspots.

In 1969 the former Marist Brothers High School rugby club called Albions approached Reade and his men seeking to merge as the Albions was struggling to keep together a team in the Suva competition. The deal was sealed in the Crypt at the Sacred Heart Cathedral — a neutral ground for all Catholics from all educational backgrounds. That is where the St John Marist Club was formed.

St John Marist’s clubhouse humble beginnings was from the Baledrokadroka’s home close to Albert Park, to the Honson St carpark and finally to the current Marist Rugby Club below Lambert Hall in Suva. Bosco himself played on the wing after a stint with the Forestry Department in Nukurua where he ran from the forests to his quarters each day to keep fit. After a stint of three years studying and playing as the first Fijian to play for the celebrated Harlequins Rugby Club in England, Bosco returned to play again for his homeland.

In 1976, during a kava session, Reade turned to Bosco to ask him how the boys could keep occupied playing rugby during the off- seasons.

“I told him let’s play 7s,” Bosco said.

“This was where Marist 7s was born. I suggested 7s rugby as I had played in the Middlesex 7s and other invitational meets in the United Kingdom and France. I drew up a chart — and we did it first for the club. We ran it at MBHS ground, split the teams into teams of seven and Carlton Brewery sponsored the event with five cartons of beer.”

Some national reps produced by the club: Jone Raikuna, Sakapo Vodivodi Lario Raitilava Setareki Tamanivalu (late) George Sailosi (late) Romanu Sakaraia – 15s Atonio Racika – 15s Pio Bosco Tikoisuva – 15s and 7s (skipper of both) Robert Howard – 7s, Peter Kean – 15s Paulo Nawalu – 15s and 7s (skipper of both) Aliposo Waqailiti (late) 15s and 7s (skipper of 7ss), Sani Tagivetaua – 15s and 7s, Peniasi Nasalo 15s, Rodney Samuels – 15s, John Sanday – 15s Belasio Vukiwai- 15s, Peni Rauluni- 7s and 15s, Sirilo Lovokuro – 15s and 7s, Ratu Timoci Tavanavanua, Ilaitia Damu- 15s, Jimi Damu – 15s, John Edwards- 15s, Viliame Lilidamu- 15s, Asaeli Hughes – 15s, Samu Domoni – 15s – former national coach, Max Olsson – 15s and 7s, Vilisoni Vakatalai – 15s, Inoke Male – 15s former coach, Waisiki Masirewa – 7s and 15s, Sakeasi Vonolagi – 7s and 15s, Vesito Rauluni (late) – 7s, 15s, Joeli Veitayaki – 15s, Eparama Tuvunivono, Waisea Mateiwai, Ilivasi Tabua – 15s former national coach, Tomasi Tamanivalu – 15s, Sunia Koto – 15s, Josese Bale – 15s, Warren Hughes – 15s, Langi Peters – 15s, Akuila Nacolaiviu – 7s, Meli Nayacalevu – 7s, Isaac Mow – 15s and 7s,Dan Baleinadogo – 15s, Joseph Narruhn – 15s, Julian Vulakoro – 15s, Gabirieli Lovobalavu – 15s, Netani Talei – 15s (skipper), Setefano Samoca – 15s (Nadroga skipper), Asaeli Tikoirotuma – 15s (Fiji and Waikato Chiefs), Benito Masilevu – 7s, Isake Katonibau – 7s, Jerry Tuwai – 7s.

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