IN­SIDE NRC

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - BY FOX SPORTS’ ANDREW SWAIN

The drive from Nadi to Si­ga­toka in Fiji takes about an hour and a half, de­spite only be­ing 60-odd kilo­me­tres long. It’s a prey slow, old road, but when you fi­nally make your way into Si­ga­toka, there’s a sign that says “Wel­come to Rug­byTown”.

Si­ga­toka is home to the Nadroga Stal­lions, Fiji’s na­tional cham­pion team, and it’s fair to say the lo­cals are as parochial as it gets. So when a new team, the Fi­jian Drua, joined Australia’s Na­tional Rugby Cham­pi­onship and turned up in Si­ga­toka for its first home game, there was a lile ap­pre­hen­sion from the Fi­jian fans.

The week pre­vi­ous, the Drua had notched up their first ever win with a dom­i­nant and equally ex­cit­ing dis­play in Mel­bourne, so the ap­pre­hen­sion was doused with a nice help­ing of cu­rios­ity.

Fiji rugby’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Aus­tralian game should never be un­der es­ti­mated. The likes of I lie Tabua, LoteTuqiri and Radike Samo paved the way for the cur­rent crop of Fi­jian stars grac­ing the Wal­la­bies' squad.

Marika Koroi­bete is the latest to wear the green and gold in anger, in a big cou­ple of years for the boys from the is­land na­tion.Te­vita Kuridrani, Henry Speight, Taqele Nai­yar­a­voro, Samu Kerevi, Sefa Naivalu and Eto Nab­uli have all had the honour of rep­re­sent­ing our coun­try. Com­bine that with the three Fi­jian All Blacks, and the 30- odd play­ers rep­re­sent­ing clubs in the top comps in Europe ... yet Fiji it­self has reached theWorld Cup quar­ter­fi­nals just twice.

For this rea­son, it’s only fiing that we give back to the Fi­jians, and help them grow into the rugby na­tion they should be.

On our first visit to Fiji, it was ap­par­ent just how rugby-mad this na­tion is. On that drive to Si­ga­toka, you see kids playing rugby with what­ever they can get their hands on in ev­ery field you pass. Gi­ant bill­boards serve as shrines to their Olympic Sevens he­roes as you pass ev­ery vil­lage.The pride of their na­tion.

Our co-com­men­ta­tor and for­mer Wal­laby star Cameron Shep­herd went to the home vil­lage of Pe­celi Nacebe. In the first cou­ple of weeks of the com­pe­ti­tion, this kid was the talk of the town.There was word he was field­ing count­less phone calls with of­fers and in­ter­est. He has a step that makes good de­fend­ers look silly, and ball skills that show­case the in­stinc­tive na­ture of Fi­jian rugby.

Cameron had at least eight bowls of kava, then rode with his fam­ily on a two-hour trip to Lawaqa Park to watch their first home game. Un­for­tu­nately the star fly-half was struck down with a nasty an­kle in­jury just three min­utes in, but the side went on to com­pletely dom­i­nate NSW Coun­try and win com­fort­ably.

Nacebe’s father tried to whisk him away back to his home to see their vil­lage doc­tor, but Drua man­age­ment had to pull him out of the back of the truck to take him to a proper hos­pi­tal. It’s a re­minder of how much fam­ily means to them.The rugby fam­ily now needs to show that same love to the Pa­cific Is­land na­tions.

The 10,000 peo­ple in Suva’s Na­tional Sta­dium the next week against reign­ing NRC champs, the Perth Spirit, was a sign this side has won the hearts of the Fi­jians. And they pumped the champs.

World Rugby and the Aus­tralian Rugby Union should be ap­plauded for giv­ing them a chance to build them­selves a mean­ing­ful XVs team that will go a long way to keep­ing the tal­ent where it be­longs, in Fiji.

The endgame for Australia won’t be in poach­ing play­ers for the Wal­la­bies. Rather, it will be in what they can teach us – the tough, un­com­pro­mis­ing, but also beau­ti­fully in­stinc­tive play they are so ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing.

It’s only fit­ting that we give back to the Fi­jians, and help them grow into the rugby na­tion they should be.

Pe­celi Nacebe's form for Fiji's NRC side has caught the eye.

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