State of Origin: Teams from Ba Province to clash in Vanua Cup final

Yasawa rugby side at Churchill park in Lautoka. Picture: BALJEET SINGH/FILE

THE Vodafone Vanua Cup final between Lautoka and Yasawa at Prince Charles Park in Nadi this Saturday is likened to the Australia Rugby League State of Origin series.

The two teams from the Ba Province are a close-knit family however on the field they are fierce rivals. Yasawa created history last Saturday after overcoming Ovalau 13-12 in the semi-final of the Vodafone Vanua Cup at Nasau Park to gain a spot in the major division for the first time.

It is through the reforms made by the Fiji Rugby Union to its competition structure that has given the chance for the lesser known teams to move up the ranks via the automatic promotion-relegation system.

Rugby is not new to the villagers on the Yasawa Islands with the Ratudradra brothers Viliame, Kitione and Eneri representing Fiji both in 7s and XVs.

Viliame being one of the more famous of the siblings as he was part of the national team that defeated the touring British Lions and also Tonga in a three-Test series in 1977.

Another son of Yasawa, Kaiava Salusalu went on to become a dual international representing the nation both in rugby union and rugby league.

He was part of the Fiji team that played in the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

Some other notable names hailing from Yasawa who have represented the Flying Fijians are Tevita Rauga, Peni Volavola, Ilaitia Ravouvou, Jone Daunivucu while Eroni Sau is part of the current squad.

The Qauqau siblings Sikeli and Taniela made their names in the abbreviated code along with players such as Uraia Toga, Manoa Qerea, Vatemo Ravouvou and Kalione Nasoko.

Newcomers Aminiasi Tuimaba and Napolioni Ratu helped Fiji secure the 2018/2019 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title earlier this month.

France-based Setareki Tamanivalu, who hails from Yasawa-i-rara, represented the All Blacks from 2015-2017 while Taqele Naiyaravoro who now plays for English Club Northampton Saints earned two test caps for the Wallabies is also a Yasawa native.

Yasawa Rugby Union president Mosese Naivalu said they had come a long way from when Viliame and Salusalu made them proud.

“In the playing days of Kaiava, the tikina of Naviti alone represented Yasawa in the island zone competition eventually beating Ovalau in a final,” Naivalu said.

“Yasawa was rewarded with Salusalu being selected in the Fiji team to the inaugural 1987 World Cup squad.

“Yasawa played in the island zone during the Hibiscus Festival in Suva a long time ago before it became the Western Rally and finally one of the eight teams in this Vanua Cup Western Zone competition.”

With the introduction of the Vanua Cup in 2017, Yasawa won only one out of seven matches in the Western Zone in the inaugural season.

In 2018 the side won five, lost one and drew one to reach the semi-finals.

This year, Yasawa won five matches, lost two but got through to the semi-finals and edged Ovalau to qualify for the final and gain promotion to the Skipper Cup.

Last year Yasawa upset Lautoka in the Bainimarama Challenge Cup winning 25-10.

Naivalu said they overcame the Ovalau onslaught last weekend and were ready for the marauding Maroons this Saturday.

He said they were humbled by the Yasawa community in Lautoka this season with their support being phenomenal.

“The boys respect their big brothers from Lautoka because most of them have grown up playing rugby with each other,” Naivalu said.

“They are rightfully the Skipper Cup trendsetters. We lost to them 14-8 in round four but this is the final and the winner gets the Bainimarama Challenge Cup and plays all the other semi-finalists.

“The support of the Yasawa community has been phenomenal and this has fuelled the desires of our boys to lift the crown.

“No one prepares only to come out second best especially in a final. The coaching department has dug deep after two losses in the season to perfect the imperfections.”

Yasawa has recorded big turnouts for all the Vanua Cup matches and also the club competition matches at Churchill Park and Saturday’s fixture won’t be an exception.

Even Lautoka coach Ifereimi Rawaqa has admitted that more Yasawa fans were expected to pack Prince Charles Park.

“This weekend for sure every Yasawa villager will be leaving the islands to make their way to Viti Levu to watch the final,” Naivalu said.

“Only the fishes will be left behind. It will be like our very own State of Origin series. At the moment it is Maroons 1 Yasawa 0.

“So we are calling on the fans to come out in huge numbers to support the team. We are also delighted that BLK has chosen to provide our team training vests for the game.”

More Stories