OSEA & TAVU INSIDE STORY ON FIJI’S FAVOURITE ENGAGEMENT
By DRUE SLATTER Photos FEROZ KHALIL Hair & Make up PRIYANKA SINGH Location FIJI MUSEUM & THURSTON GARDENS
The skipper’s affection is obvious as we sit down with Olympic gold medalist Osea Kolinisau and his fiance Mere Tavu Fa on a Monday morning. The blues of starting a new work week and heading back into camp are nowhere to be seen as the Fiji rugby 7s captain watches his lady go through hair and makeup for the impending photoshoot. Osea’s fleeting glances and wolf-whistles towards Tavu draw a collective sigh from the ladies of the maiLife office. For a pair that have had to deal with public attention from the beginning of their relationship, they don’t skimp on displays of affection for each other. Set to wed later this year, Osea and Tavu have spent their entire relationship in the limelight. The lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics meant that the country was watching and supporting every step of our national squad, and Osea was at the forefront. Now, if you’ve lived in Fiji then you’ve heard of Osea Kolinisau. Since his rugby 7s debut in 2008, Osea has risen in the ranks to eventually captaining the national 7s team to the Rio Olympics and winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal. However, what many do not know is how a young Tongan woman, by the name of Tavu Fa, stole the heart of the nation’s favourite captain. Growing up in Suva, Tavu found herself surrounded by friends of all backgrounds. A Tongan herself, Tavu was as aware of Rugby 7s as any local Fijian, but never an enthusiast. Her preference was a different game altogether. “I had Australian neighbors that somehow got my siblings and I into tennis. I’m glad it happened because, at the age of 13, I earned a tennis scholarship to complete high school at Natabua High School,” Tavu says. This led to a University Scholarship to study and play tennis at the Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, USA. The busy life of overseas tournaments that Osea now lives, was Tavu’s entire childhood. “It was definitely colourful, with all the overseas travel for tennis tournaments. I was so blessed with the love and support of my family and friends.” So how does a former tennis player meet and fall in love with a current rugby 7s player? Fittingly, it was at a sporting event.
“Honestly, I didn’t see him as anything more than a friend and great conversation in the beginning,” Tavu recalls. According to Tavu, the pair met at the Las Vegas 7s in 2014. “We met through my cousin, who I was visiting. I met Osea at the team hotel and somehow, we ended up talking all night. We got along really well, but there wasn’t anything romantic then,” Tavu says. However, the Olympian seems to remember it a little differently. “I remember seeing her way back in 2012, at the Hideaway Resort. I was there playing for the Serevi Selects at the Coral Coast 7s and she was there for work,” Osea recalls. “She walked past me and said ‘Good Morning’ and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, she’s got a beautiful smile.’ I turned to my teammate, Emosi Vucago and pointed her out.” That particular smile must have been something to remember, as the pair didn’t cross paths again until 2014, when he recognised her. A few months passed after the 2014 Las Vegas 7s and no contact was made. But one night, while Osea was in Sri Lanka for rugby, the Tongan ‘ta’ahine’ crossed his mind and he hopped on the most popular social tool of our generation: Facebook. As many of this age can attest to, the era of social media has made long-distance relationships or travelling away from your partner much easier. Tavu’s busy schedule as Business Administration Executive at Vodafone Fiji, and Osea’s frequent rugby travels meant much of their initial conversations were online. A few years down the line, they have weathered an Olympic gold medal, public scrutiny, a rumoured proposal and the possibility of relocating to the UK. And now, they plan to tie the knot. Being an Olympian, Osea has travelled to many award ceremonies and engagements, all with Tavu by his side. It was at one on one of these trips, after the World Rugby Awards in London, that he took the leap and asked Tavu to be his wife. “I’d like to think it was a straightforward “Yes”,” Osea says. “I mean, Tavu had already told me she’d wanted to be with me forever!” he boasts. At this point I can detect an eye-roll from his intended. The friendly banter between the two is a constant throughout the interview, always teasing and always competing. That may be the product of their sporting backgrounds, but is definitely an ingredient in a fun and vibrant relationship. Their engagement has been welcomed enthusiastically by both families, with blessings and a bounty of marriage advice from both sides. “My father always told me, in order to love my wife perfectly, I must love God first,” Osea tells us. He believes his time with Tavu has added another dimension to not only his character, but also to his career. The comfort of having a second opinion, from someone you can trust to be sincere and brutally honest, has taken a significant load off of the captain’s shoulders. “I used to be the only one critiquing my performance. Now
I have Tavu, and she’s very straightforward. She’ll watch a game and ask why I wasn’t at my usual level, and because she’s so close to me, I can accept her observations.” However, Tavu was not always so rugby savvy, and Osea has enjoyed every minute of acquainting her with the game of 7s. “Tavu wasn’t a rugby enthusiast, but I liked that. I liked that she didn’t know much about the game or the team. Yes, she knew the basics, but I loved explaining aspects of the game to her,” he says. Now, it would be hard to pry Tavu from the television during a rugby tournament. Like all of us, she’s fallen in love with the abbreviated code, and Osea can take much credit for that. An avid supporter of our national 7s team as well as its captain, Tavu took the trip to Rio to watch our boys create history. What happened after the match-winning final caused quite the stir in the #Osea&Tavu fan base. The skipper ran into the crowd, and handed her his medal. Tavu’s enthusiastic nodding to an inaudible question sent speculations flying. Did he propose? Did she say yes? However, the guesses were premature as Osea simply ran over to check on his better half. “I didn’t expect him to come to me with his medal. He did run over but it was only because we hadn’t spoken to each other in over two weeks as their phones were confiscated,” Tavu says. The enthusiastic nod was simply in response to a concerned partner asking if she had been well and happy. Now that the ACTUAL proposal has been made, wedding plans are in place but preferably kept private. “We are keeping our date and venue private as it is going to be a small, intimate and non-traditional ceremony,” the couple informs us. What we do know is that since Tavu loves the beach, it will be a seaside wedding, and feature the star-studded Olympian team from Rio 2016. “I’m excited to have the boys together again. Some of us haven’t seen each other since the Olympics,” Osea says, making the occasion sound like both a wedding and a team reunion. But it can be said that grooms don’t have much knowledge of the wedding process and brides-to-be everywhere have accepted that. “Sometimes Tavu will say to me, “It’s like you don’’t even care about the wedding!”” Osea laughs. “But boys will be boys and I don’t care what the ceremony is like, as long as I marry this woman and spend the rest of my life with her. When asked about plans for ‘the rest of their lives’, the pair agreed that they were playing things by ear at the moment. Tavu hopes to stay on with Vodafone while Osea works through the logistics of his newly-offered scholarship to Loughborough University. An opportunity to study either Sports Science and Body
Mechanics or Sports Science and Management was offered to the rugby captain. His mentor for the past four years played a major role in his decision. Olympic Rugby 7s coach Ben Ryan is an alumni of Loughborough University and a testimony to the effect of their programs. Upon learning that the coach himself studied Sports Science and Management, Osea opted for the same. He rates Ben Ryan as the best coach in 7s and draws inspiration from his techniques and powerful messages. “Ben is a mentor and a benchmark. I’ve always told Tavu that it would be a dream for me to finish school and start coaching while Ben is still in the game. Imagine if I got to coach against him,” Osea speculates. Osea is driven to be the best at what he does, and in order to be the best, eventually you have to go up against the best. “I want to coach like he did and draw inspiration from the things he did. Hopefully my experience and this further education can help enhance the benchmark he set for me. Maybe one day I’ll meet that mark and maybe one day I’ll even push it an inch higher.” In the meantime, both coach and player are working on Osea’s education opportunities at Loughborough. As the scholarship money may not be enough to cover his expenses, Osea tells us that contact has been made with World Rugby and other sponsors for assistance. Until then, Osea will continue to captain our national squad and keep an eye out on candidates worthy of taking the wheel from him. “There are many experienced boys in the squad and many different styles of leadership. When the time comes to pass on the mantle, I have the comfort of knowing that many of us have learnt from each other and learnt from Ben Ryan,” he says Whatever happens, the skipper now has a second opinion in decision-making and wouldn’t have it any other way. Should we farewell our favourite captain for other shores, Fiji can take comfort in the fact that he has a capable and steadfast co-captain at his side.