Fiji's national passion: rugby

September 6, 2019

Fiji ranks 9th in the World!

 

With the Rugby World Cup due to kick off in Japan in just two weeks, it's time I enlightened you about the sport that unites Fijians of all races and creeds and ignites their loyalty like nothing else. Since the first World Cup in 1987, Fiji has competed at seven tournaments, making the quarter-finals in 1987 and in 1999. Fiji is now placed ninth on the World Rugby Men’s Rankings, remarkable for a country whose population is a little under 900,000. Rugby is Fiji's national sport, played by every boy and an increasing number of girls.

 

Most Fijians live in rural villages where church and rugby provide the only leisure activities, so it's no wonder rugby is often described as a religion. And it's one that binds Fijians with a deep, whole-hearted passion. Above, kids play on a typical village rugby field with home-made goal posts. Photo credit: Huygens.

 

I'll never forget the first time I heard, yes, heard an international match broadcast live on Fiji TV. I think Fiji was playing Tonga or Samoa. Each time Fiji scored a try or goal, a euphoric and prolonged roar erupted from the entire population of Suva, overwhelming our little house high in the hills. Once we realised the roar was not thunder or a landslide, we enjoyed this display of passion by Suva's one-eyed rugby fans. We didn't have a TV, and neither did many others, but every set in the country mesmerised many viewers that night. When an international was held in the daytime, the university surrendered and connected a big screen outside the library!

 

Fiji Rugby Origins

In 1884, if not earlier, rugby was played on Viti Levu island by British, New Zealanders and Fijians of the Native Constabulary. Readers of my Fiji Islands Mysteries, will now see that Police, Joe Horseman's old team, holds a venerable position in Fiji rugby history. In 1913 P.J. Sheehan formalised the first club and by 1926 Fiji had played internationals against Samoa and Tonga. The Fiji Schools Rugby Union team toured New Zealand in 1939, returning without losing a single match.

After World War II, Fiji rugby (fifteen-a side) truly flourished, with successful tours of Australia and New Zealand drawing record crowds in the 50s and 60s. In 1964 Fiji played Wales and France on their first tour to Europe, strengthening their reputation.

 

Fiji would play at an even higher standard but for the "brawn drain", whereby the most talented Fiji players are lured by high pay to play for teams in Australia, New Zealand, France, and others. Joe Horseman himself took long leave from the Fiji Police Force twice to play for France and Japan, although he would rightly claim rugby takes brains, too. Of course, such players' communities also benefit from remittances these men send back home.

Photo: Fiji plays in the World World Cup in South Africa.

 

Rugby Sevens

Fiji is one of the most successful Rugby Sevens nations since the seven-a-side shorter, faster game was introduced. Fiji won the Hong Kong Sevens tournament in 1977, and has repeated this win eight times. Fiji is also the only side to have won the Rugby World Cup Sevens twice; in 1997 (defeating South Africa in the final) and in 2005 (defeating New Zealand in the final). But Fiji's crowning achievement was to win the gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, the first Olympic medal in the country's history, when they defeated Great Britain in the final. I think the British colonial officers who taught the game to the then Native Constabulary would have been delighted! What do you think?

Photo: The Fiji Sevens 2016 Olympic team after their victory in Rio de Janeiro. 

 

 

 

So,  I will be barracking for Fiji in the Rugby World Cup and I hope you will be, too. Here's to success in Japan for Fiji!

 

I would love to answer any questions from readers about Fiji, or indeed about my books. Just leave me a message on bmallsopp.com or email me at bernadette@bmallsopp.com.

 

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 Bernadette

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