OSEA & TAVU IN­SIDE STORY ON FIJI’S FAVOURITE EN­GAGE­MENT

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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.

Osea and Tavu share a mo­ment out­side the Fiji Mu­seum

Osea waves to fans at the ANZ stadium

Light-hearted love, the cou­ple share a laugh

Osea (left) and team­mates at the post-Olympics celebrations in Suva

Osea in ac­tion

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