‘Small axe’ of rugby

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you — if you run into a wall, don’t turn around — figure out how to climb it, go through it or walk around it”

The above saying by basketball legend Michael Jordan rings true for former national rugby playmaker Ilaitia Ravouvou.

The 54-year-old Muaira native of Naviti, Yawasa, represented Fiji in 15s and in the abbreviated were called by rugby commentators back in the 1980s as ‘small axe’.

This is because of his small size and the extraordinary moves he does — complimented by the guts and the will to floor his bigger oppositions on the rugby paddock.

Born and bred at Saunaka Village in Nadi, Ravouvou was also inspired by the legacy of some great rugby players that emerged from the village such as the late Jo Sovau, former national 15s skipper Sela Toga and Jo Toga to name a few.

In an interview at his Saunaka home, the former Fiji 7s rep said his childhood dream was to represent the country in rugby and he worked hard conquering all obstacles to fulfil his dream.

Ravouou started his career at primary school level then pursued the sport at Ratu Navula College.

He also played for the Saunaka team before making his first break in the Nadi team at the age of 18 years old.

“I started playing rugby at a very young age and it has been my dream to represent the country,” said Ravouvou.

“While at Ratu Navula, I focused more on rugby instead of education and I trained every day except on Sunday.

“Before the Saunaka team met for training every afternoon I always make sure to first do my training before joining my teammates.

“My first break when I was selected for the Nadi Colts and after few games in the side I was promoted to the main Nadi team.

“This selection really motivated me to work harder because I know this is a stepping stone towards my dream.”

Because of his small size he was shifted on the wing and was playing against players double his size during the Nadi club games.

His baptism of fire was during Nadi’s Farebrother Sullivan trophy game against Rewa in the 80s.

Former national rep Samisoni Viriviri was the then Nadi coach who introduced Ravouvou to the fly half berth.

Little did he know that this positional switch elevated him to be the person he was today.

“I was playing on the wing for the Nadi team and it was our game against Rewa in the Farebrother Sullivan trophy where I made my debut in the playmaker position,” said Ravouvou.

“I was on the bench with Savenaca Aria during that game and with less than five minutes from full time our first choice fly half Saimoni Nasau was taken out of the field because of injury — Rewa was winning.

“Vivirivi looked at me in the eyes and asked — can you play first five eighth — I nodded my head with a smile.

“My first touch of the ball — I kicked it inside Rewa territory on the touch line near the try line.

“A fumble by Rewa gave us the opportunity to attack and upon receiving the ball from our halfback Ilai Koroitamana I made a dummy pass to my inside centre and dodged past two defenders to score the winning try under the crossbar.

“It was after that game that I stamped my mark on the number 10 position.”

Ravouvou was part of the Nadi team that dominated the Farebrother Sullivan trophy from 1980 to 1988.

He was also the star of the Nadi team that defeated Nadroga in 1986 scoring the winning try.

It was from this game that attracted the eyes of the national selectors as he fulfilled his rugby dream of becoming a national rugby rep.

He also played a vital role in the success of the Saunaka 7s team during the 80s.

His best moment was during the Fiji Bitter Marist 7s where Saunaka defeated the Waisale Serevi’s Nabua team in the final.

Ravovou named former Nadroga pivot Tawake Dakunibubuli and Waisale Serevi as his toughest opponents.

“These two players also made their mark in their respective teams and they made me to play well.

“As for Serevi — to shut him down you have to close him up before he touches the ball because once you give space it will be hard to stop him.”

Ravouvou also represented the West team against the touring Wales team and continue representing the country until 2003.

He spent two years in Sri Lanka and returned home to hang his boots. He said rugby had taken him to places such as England, Tonga, Australia, Sri Lanka and Samoa to name a few. Ravouvou attributed his success to sheer hard work, honesty and faith in the Almighty Lord.

“My message to upcoming players to be a good listener, work hard and give your best in everything — most importantly don’t lose hope when you face obstacles — conquer your obstacles with a positive and determined heart,” he added.

Ravouvou is the uncle of Fiji 7s playmaker Vatemo Ravouvou.

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