Gone but never forgotten
6 March, 2015, 12:00 am
WHEN Sirilo Lovokuro passed away in August last year most knew him for the dedicated teacher and father he was – little knew that he was a rugby legend in the 1980s from the champion St Johns Marist Club.
He was also one of Fiji’s first players to turn professional in Japan.
Lovokuro, who hailed from Naselesele on Taveuni, was a member of the rampaging St Johns Marist side that ruled the sevens circuit in the early 80s and was renowned for his long kicks and runs from his fullback position.
He was so passionate about whatever he did he fought hard in the classrooms to emphasise the importance of education to the parents of his students he taught and tried to spread the good word of rugby on and off field.
For through rugby he was able to forge relationships across the globe that would help him with his work as a teacher and rugby player.
This passion started early in his career playing grade rugby for his school St John’s College in Cawaci, Ovalau and graduating from Sixth Form and moving across the Ovalau – Natovi channel to Suva’s Corpus Christi teaching institution in Suva.
It was at Corpus Christi that Father Brian Wilson – with an eye for exceptional talents – realised that Lovokuro was destined for greater things.
Father Wilson was also instrumental in bringing in Tongan boxer Sani Fine to box for Fiji and win Fiji’s only gold medal at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982.
But like all big steps, Lovokuro started off small and his rugby career at the St Johns Marist Club in Flagstaff, Suva playing colts rugby and then graduating to premier grade rugby under Father Wilson’s watchful eye – ensuring his find would excel.
Excel he did – straight from club rugby he earned a spot in the national 15s team in the first 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Close comrade and then St Johns Marist flanker Sete Waqavou recalls how it happened.
“I first met Master Siri at the clubhouse in 1986, when Father Wilson bought him across from Corpus Christi to expose him to an established rugby club where his career could blossom.
“Obviously, Fr Wilson had determined that his student had the skill-set to be a top class player.
“He (Lovokuro) began to showcase those exquisite skills at first five-eighth at the top competition and had an immense contribution to the club route to the ultimate goal in Suva club rugby – winning the 1986 Escott Shield.
“He sustained an injury during the knockout stages and missed the final against a star-studded Army team being led by national skipper Koli Rakoroi.
“Although missing that 1986 Escott Shield finals, Master Siri had alerted the national selectors that he had finally arrived.
“Without wearing the Suva jersey in 1986, Master Siri became a bolter selection for the 1987 first ever Rugby World Cup in New Zealand when he was named at first-five eighth along with ex-Suva St schoolmate the mercurial Elia Rokowailoa.
“From club player to national call up was a huge transition for any player but it was his destiny.
“The great Pio Bosco Tikoisuva was our club coach in 1986 and he was quite influential in fine-tuning the young kid in the intricacies of five-eighth plays.”
Another rugby player who made that cut to the 1987 RWC was Severo Koroduadua, another player who came from Cawaci under the tutelage and eye of Fr Wilson but Koroduadua starred for the Police club in those days.
It was obvious the mark that Fr Wilson had on Lovokuro as he named his eldest son Wilson, a former MRC Colts U20 vice-captain and premier grade fullback, after him and watched most of his son’s games.
Wilson was a champion 400 metre runner in Marist Brothers’ High School having run with the likes of the late Roy Ravana Jnr, Nunu Takenana and Ratu Tira Narara when they set the 4x400m senior boys record in 2012 which still stands today.
“Master Siri had a series of silky skills in his armoury: great soft hands at first receiver, technical knowhow with his general field plays, prolific goal kicker and could read plays like a comic book,” Waqavou said.
“Off the field, the brother had the humility of a champion and a quality that attracted his close friends club mates to him.”
Master Sirilo died last year while preparing his Ratu Nemani Memorial school rugby team in Momi but he had left a mark on parents and landowners in the area.
He used his network established on the rugby field in Fiji and abroad to continue to develop the lives of his students.
The Japanese Government helped fix the drainage for the school in Momi which at times flooded the classrooms making it unsuitable for use.
Lovokuro reached out to his former teammates like Waqavou in Brisbane to help buy a set of jerseys for his Momi school before he passed away.
He once said “when I took our Nadroga team to Suva for the Kaji competition one year we were billeted in the rundown Raiwai Hall and I was quite guilty as it was not ideal for their age”.
“However it was not until I saw the glint in their eyes when they were given their jerseys that I realised these were future Nadroga Stallions who like their fathers and grandfathers were warriors on the rugby field.
“They wanted to play rugby for the province.”
The Marist Rugby Club wishes to salute the contribution Master Sirilo made to rugby in Fiji but particularly to the St John Marist Rugby Club in Flagstaff, MRC president Lawrence Tikaram said.