The ghost of 2002

FORMER Fiji 7s seasoned campaigner Jope Tuikabe, today walks with a limp.

The Suva-based solider walks lamely, with irregularity in his steps, favouring his right leg. His knees are giving up.

“They are beyond repairs — medically,” he said as he sat beside his 2002 Commonwealth Games team manager Usa Daunivalu at the Holiday Inn, Suva, during the recent launch of Waisale Serevi, The King of Sevens book.

The book is about his former teammate, tauvu and best friend, Waisale Serevi.

“Both knees have given up,” Daunivalu pitched in, both laughing.

“That’s what rugby do to us. Enjoy the moment, hurt you, make you famous and when you hang the boots, the body too hangs itself,” Daunivalu continues, with more laughter, now they are joined by their coach to the games, Alifereti Cawanibuka.

Master Cawanibuka, an executive of the Fiji National University, which is tuning some of the best sports coaches and athletes, still walks steadily as the age continues to catch up compared to the pair resting.

“At times we have to rest and at times, they are painful,” Daunivalu nods.

“But in those days, those legs were unstoppable, just like what you did in Manchester,” he said with a tap on Tuikabe’s shoulder and they laughed again.

“Keitou qo na timi a lako ki Manchester in na 2002. Qo na yabaki a nuitaka kina na timi ni Igiladi me ratou winitaka kina na koula. (We were the team that went to Manchester in 2002. It was the year England hoped to win the gold medal,” Tuikabe said.

“It was coached by Ben Ryan and he brought the best from across England. They had some rugby league converts. We beat them in the semi-final and when we went past them after the match, some of them were kicking their radio which was blasting with music.

“We met New Zealand in the final. Until today, I still believe that we could have won that gold medal. It was our chance and it was ours.

“I suspected that something fishy happened. One of us complained of an injury before the final, but we moved on.

“We scored first in the final and later it came to 7-5. Saiasi Fuli was red-carded for his late tackle and six players were left.

“Then I got a yellow card because of a late tackle on me by Mills Muliaina. When I tried to get up to run again, he pulled me down. While falling, I gave him a right (punch) but the referee did not see it. The linesman saw it, reported it and when it was replayed on the big TV screen, the camera captured what I did, so I was yellow-carded and we were left with five players which contributed to our loss.

“That year Fiji fielded the best team. We were supposed to beat New Zealand, the final was ours and until today.

“First Rupeni Caucau, who was playing Super Rugby in New Zealand, suddenly said he was injured and could not play, there was only one late tackle and Fuli was red- carded.

“I still think that something happened that forced us to get the silver medal.”

Tuikabe said since the fateful final, he had been haunted by the mistakes that day, even by his yellow card incident which he acted on in the spur of the moment.

Daunivalu summed it all up and said that was rugby.

“Another day, another match, another winner. We now live with our mistakes, our injuries and our failures, but we have the best players now, the only thing we have to do is to support the boys and encourage them.”

Rugby is a battle, said Tuikabe. “They can win with your prayers and support. Their win will forever bury the ghost of our past losses in the Commonwealth Games,” he concludes before the trio joined the 7s maestro for a photo opportunity.

“The 2002 Commonwealth Games was ours because I took the best team which was made up of the cream of our best players at that time,” Cawanibuka said.

Even the great Serevi, when asked about the final after the photo session, started to speak but stopped — he was emotional, yet said: “Let’s do it because with Him (God) everything is possible.”

The 2002 team: Jope Tuikabe, Epeli Ruivadra, Iosefo Koroiadi, Jope Tuikabe, Josefa Uluivuda, Norman Ligairi, Ratu Semisi (Naevo) Saukawa , Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Saiasi Fuli, Seru Rabeni (late), Viliame Satala, Vilimoni Delasau, Waisale Serevi.

Background

* Rugby 7s at the Commonwealth Games has been played every tournament since its first appearance at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

* Rugby 7s was an optional sport that was included for 2002 and 2006; it was then made a ‘Core’ sport by the Commonwealth Games Federation, necessitating its appearance at all future games from the 2010 Games onward.

* New Zealand dominated the men’s tournament at its inception until 2014 when they lost for the first time at the Games, playing South Africa in the gold medal match.

* Up until the 2014 Commonwealth Games, rugby 7s was a male-only sport at the Games, but a female tournament is now part of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

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