FIJIAN 7s legend Waisale Serevi put it rightly when he said rugby 7s was the heartbeat of the nation.
This was evident during the Turtle Vodafone Nacula 7s held at Ratu Meli Memorial School ground in Yasawa last weekend when people from all walks of life gathered to witness the 7s battle and rivalry among island rugby players.
The Fiji Times team was invited to be a part of this 7s festival and it was a wonderful and unique experience to see rugby 7s contested against the backdrop of pristine blue waters and white sandy beaches.
The first thing that caught our attention on our arrival was the number of speed and fibreglass boats anchored on the shore by the school.
Much to our amazement was the participation of tourists from nearby resorts as they gathered in huge numbers to be a part of this 7s carnival.
Rugby 7s tournaments are hardly held on the islands but the patriotism from ardent 7s fans during the two-day tournament was another thing all together that brought the tournament to a successful conclusion.
A total of 24 teams in Yasawa participated and all these teams arrived with their fans, just as the hotel teams were accompanied by their guests.
These visiting teams, along with match officials, sponsors’ reps, media officials and guests were billeted in nearby resorts and villages.
Chief guest and national 7s coach Ben Ryan was impressed with the atmosphere and entertainment, let alone the talent on display.
He said the tournament was well-organised and lived up to the expectation of the fans.
Ryan admitted the way 7s rugby was played in Fiji did not exist anywhere else in the world â€” the players and fans were passionate about the game.
“We are lucky that we have players who have the passion for the 7s game that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” said Ryan.
“Even my wife who was sitting next to me was thrilled with the rivalry between Fijian players, the huge tackles and so on. This is what makes the sport so special in Fiji.
“I really enjoyed the tournament, especially the fans who came out in huge numbers.
“For me to come here to Nacula is to do two things, one is to meet the people who support us magnificently on the world series and, secondly, to identify new talent that can go on and wear the famous white shirt.”
Malakati chief, the Turaga na Ratu ni Drola Apenisa Momolevu, said rugby 7s had united the people of Yasawa.
“This is the first time after so many years that the people of Yasawa have met in huge numbers,” he said.
“Traditional family links were also renewed during the two days.”
National 7s manager Paula Biu, who accompanied Ryan and Pio Tuwai to the meet, said he was thrilled with the 7s support in the islands.
He also thanked the organisers for a well-organised 7s festival.
“I was happy with the way it was organised, a well-organised tournament despite the ground conditions,” said Biu.
Tournament organiser Manasa Takala said the tournament was a success and thanked the sponsors, players, fans, guests and the school management for their support. He said the objective of the tournament was to promote rugby in the islands.
“Players in Yasawa are hardly exposed to competitive 7s event like they’re used to on the mainland,” said Takala.
“This tournament is to give our players the opportunity to display their talent and we are honoured to have Ben Ryan during the meet.
“We also thank our main sponsors Turtle Islands and Vodafone for their contribution.
“We achieved our goal and we are happy that few of our boys caught the attention of the national coach.”
Takala said the tournament would be an annual event and an opportune time for former Ratu Meli School students to reunite.
The tournament was won by ANCF Eagles who walked away with $3000 with 12 best players being selected by Ben Ryan to represent Yasawa at the upcoming Martintar and Marist 7s in Nadi and Suva respectively.
Ryan said these players would be closely monitored for a spot in the national Vodafone training squad.
And as the curtain falls on the Nacula 7s, a new ray of 7s rugby hope was fired up in the hearts of these aspiring rugby islanders as they set out on their dream to wear the famous white shirt.
Suva (Fiji Times)