Fiji a rugby eye-opener
TWENTY-three of the Far North Coast's elite junior rugby union players have just returned from the experience of a lifetime in tropical Fiji.
The 10-day sporting and cultural tour brought together the best under-17 age players from the Brunswick Heads, Wollongbar, Lennox Head, Lismore, Casino, Yamba and Grafton clubs. The tour originated from the hard work and efforts of team manager Dave Mitchell who has strong links to the Coral Coast in Fiji and was seen as a way to bring the team together for intensive training and development in the lead up to the NSW Country Championships next weekend.
The team played games against the two top rugby schools in Fiji, losing the first game 12-10 to Lelean and winning the second game 12-5 against Lomowai.
The FNC team started slowly in the Lelean game but the physicality of the Fijian's soon let them know what Fiji rugby was all about. Down on the scoreboard the FNC team clawed back into the game and were unlucky not take the game on the bell. The result was very impressive considering the quality of the opposition. Lelean School of Suva is the home of the Fiji Junior Rugby Academy and many of the Lelean players are members of the elite Fiji junior squad.
The game against Lomowai was a very different result. With the opportunity to analyse the previous game, the FNC team began with intensity and purpose and were dominant throughout the game. Played in torrential rain, the display was some of the best wet weather rugby of any grade ever witnessed.
The mistake-free effort highlighted the team's ability to play to a game plan and structure. The Lomowai coach commented on this at the end of the game saying that his team was never able to match the structure of the FNC team.
The conditions that the Fijian teams play and train in were an eye-opener for the boys. They train on fields carved out of the jungle and with goal posts created from bamboo poles. Accepted by members of the local Votua village, players got to see how the locals live. Members of the village would turn up to each training run and this acceptance and interaction is something that only rugby can provide.
The tour group was invited to a welcome ceremony at the Votua village where many indulged in the drinking of kava for the first time. This was followed by a hike deep into the Fijian highlands to a secluded waterfall and later a traditional fish drive.
The openness and hospitality of the Fijians was definitely the highlight of the tour, seeing their enjoyment as they interacted within the team, listening to them sing at games and the resounding cry of ‘Bula' every time a FNC team member passed by.
Coach Don Darke described the tour as a great success.
“The ability to take a group such as this and focus on the development of the team in a tour environment is fantastic,” he said.
“They grew as a team and took ownership of the team and the tour's outcomes. It holds us in good stead as we now approach the Country championships.”
v Lelean - Lost 12 - 10
Scorers - Tries - Jake McIntyre (Wollongbar) 1
Blake Hawkins (Brunswick Heads) 1
v Lomawai - Won 12 - 5
Scorers - Tries - Cameron Phillips (Lismore) 2
Conv - James Hewetson (Casino) 1