Ben Volavola: Rugby and the Woman he Loves


mailife - - Contents - By JOHN MITCHELL Pho­tos by JONE LUVENITOGA

The movie, Adrift, will al­ways hold a spe­cial place in Fiji Air­ways Fly­ing Fi­jian Ben Volavola’s heart. Not only was the movie shot in Fiji, it also sparked a trop­i­cal ro­mance that has kept the world cap­ti­vated. Hol­ly­wood ac­tress, Shai­lene Woodley, who starred in the Di­ver­gent tril­ogy, was re­port­edly in Fiji film­ing Adrift in late 2017 when she met the rugby in­ter­na­tional. But it was not un­til Jan­uary this year when she de­cided to of­fi­cially an­nounce their re­la­tion­ship with a post on In­sta­gram say­ing - “damn I love him” which at­tracted close to 500,000 likes and more than 2000 com­ments from fol­low­ers. As they say, the rest is his­tory. To­day Volavola finds him­self as one of the most talked about in­ter­na­tional rugby stars. In this is­sue of maiLife he breaks his si­lence on his ro­mance and talks openly about his rugby, his love and his fu­ture!


When asked about their re­la­tion­ship, the hum­ble Bordeaux rug­ger was quick to re­ply, “it’s been great!” and “she ‘s def­i­nitely a woman that I can see my­self be­ing with for the rest of my life. “She’s great and amaz­ing. From the first day I met her I sensed she was dif­fer­ent from any­one I knew. I’ve been re­ally blessed to get to know her, to see her part of the world, to be able to learn from her and for invit­ing me to know her world bet­ter. “The two met dur­ing the film­ing of Adrift, the true story of a woman who sails into the eye of a hur­ri­cane to save her love, played by Sam Claflin. Since then, their blos­som­ing re­la­tion­ship has been the cen­tre of me­dia spec­u­la­tion and at­ten­tion. Volavola chose his re­cent trip to help the Fly­ing Fi­jians de­fend the Pa­cific Na­tions Cup to open up about his ro­mance with Woodley, one of Hol­ly­wood’s ris­ing young stars. He said over the past few years com­ing to Fiji and join­ing camp was some­thing he looked for­ward to around June. “I’ve come to love this group (Fly­ing Fi­jians) and also com­ing home is such a spe­cial thing. “It’s al­ways great to meet in fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings, taste food you grew up on and just re­lax at home be­cause there’s nowhere else like home, which is such a cliché but is so true.” Volavola pre­vi­ously played for Su­per Rugby clubs such as the Waratahs, Cru­saders and

Rebels be­fore mov­ing to Europe to play for French Top 14 team Bordeaux Bè­gles.


While he finds the lan­guage bar­rier a chal­lenge in his new home of six months, he be­lieves Bordeaux City is a nice place to live in. “France is such a great and beau­ti­ful place and I’m re­ally blessed to spend the last five to six months there learn­ing a hole new dif­fer­ent cul­ture, liv­ing on the other side of the world and try­ing to speak a dif­fer­ent lan­guage. “All of these have broad­ened my experiences in gen­eral and I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to learn­ing more.” One of the things the 27-year-old likes about Bordeaux is its build­ings and ar­chi­tec­ture. “Def­i­nitely my favourite is the land­scape. Liv­ing in a beau­ti­ful city like Bordeaux, you can drive into the city and all you see are well-groomed build­ings that have been around for hun­dreds of years. The food, the at­mos­phere and the peo­ple are also so dif­fer­ent.” As far as rugby goes, his sports high­light for 2018 is mov­ing far away from home. “My ma­jor high­light would be wrap­ping my mind around the thought of hav­ing France as my home for the next cou­ple of years,” he said. “I’m grate­ful for this sport be­cause it has al­lowed me to im­merse my­self in dif­fer­ent cul­tures, taken me to places I’ve never dreamed of go­ing to be­fore and broad­ened my hori­zon.” Like any new­comer to a for­eign place, he says liv­ing in France has its moun­tains, chief among them the inability to speak and un­der­stand the lan­guage well. “The lan­guage is def­i­nitely a chal­lenge but I think once I get my head around it things will be a lot eas­ier. “He pointed out the style of rugby the French played was also new to him. “Be­ing able to adapt to that style has been a chal­lenge but it’s also an op­por­tu­nity to learn more as well. “Over here we are so used to a quicker game and we try and move the ball around. Over there it’s more struc­tured, a bit slower and kick­ing is big. “


Volavola just re­cently signed up with an­other French Top 14 club, Rac­ing 92, and will say good­bye to Bordeaux and move to Nan­terre City where he is ex­pected to play in 2019. “I’m look­ing for­ward to join­ing my new club, learn­ing more about its cul­ture and meet­ing my new team­mates.” French rugby aside, his lat­est fo­cus was his na­tional du­ties with the Fly­ing Fi­jians and shar­ing as much rugby knowl­edge and skills with young lo­cal play­ers as pos­si­ble. “Play­ers like me who come from abroad have been blessed with be­ing able to play with and learn from world class coaches. I think we bring knowl­edge about our game that we’ve learned from abroad and are will­ing to share with lo­cal and young guys who will join us in rep­re­sent­ing our coun­try. “We also want to build a cul­ture that is open floor so to speak. We want lo­cal and young guys com­ing into the programme to have a voice and to speak out so we can learn from one an­other and grow as a col­lec­tive.”


Though Volavola’s stints with Su­per Rugby and the Fly­ing Fi­jians have made him a house­hold name in this part of the world, he is still very much new to au­di­ences in Europe and Amer­ica. Many me­dia sto­ries have por­trayed him as Woodley’s rugby beau, an ath­lete and boyfriend, - terms that place him in the shadow of his ac­tress girl­friend. But Volavola is a star in his own right. He says Woodley gives the moral sup­port he needs to fo­cus on his rugby, ad­just to new life­style changes and face ha­rass­ment from pap­pa­razi. “She is the most sup­port­ive per­son in the whole world…doesn’t mat­ter where she is or what she’s do­ing she’s al­ways want­ing to watch our games (rugby) and hop­ing the best for me. We are so blessed to have met the way we did and be able to grow in our re­la­tion­ship.”


Volavola grew up on strong fam­ily val­ues that con­tinue to guide him to­day. And de­spite his ca­reer achieve­ments and as­so­ci­a­tion with Hol­ly­wood, he re­mains hum­ble, soft spo­ken and re­spect­ful - val­ues that have caught the ad­mi­ra­tion of his Big Lit­tle Lies star girl­friend. “I think fam­ily holds a mas­sive in­flu­ence within my life and it has been able to keep me grounded in that way. “I also think I’m blessed to have Shai­lene, who con­tin­ues to keep me grounded and al­lows me to un­der­stand that yeah, her life is dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sion­ally but when it comes to the real world re­gard­ing the two of us, it is just life as usual. “She finds it re­ally cool that she’s with some­one from the is­lands, that comes from such a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, she’s al­ways keen to learn more about our peo­ple, our coun­try and my fam­ily which is such a pos­i­tive thing.” While Woodley never got to fully ex­pe­ri­ence Fi­jian cul­ture and way of life, her short time spent here shoot­ing Adrift has nev­er­the­less made her a big fan of Fiji. “She loved the re­laxed and lov­ing na­ture of our peo­ple, our tra­di­tion and our food. Fam­ily holds a mas­sive part in her life so the fact that fam­ily is top pri­or­ity in our cul­ture, as well as spir­i­tu­al­ity and faith, is some­thing she can re­ally re­late to,” Volavola says.


As a pro­fes­sional rugby player, Volavola is fa­mil­iar with the glare of cam­era flashes, press con­fer­ences and de­mand­ing ques­tions from re­porters. Only this time, as his re­la­tion­ship grows, the me­dia at­ten­tion seems to

be in­ten­si­fy­ing. Asked how he was deal­ing with pres­sure from re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers, he said “pretty well ac­tu­ally.” “She’s (Woodley) so sup­port­ive. I’ve learned so much of her ev­ery­day and she’s able to al­low me to set­tle into a sys­tem where there’s a lot more at­ten­tion. De­spite the fo­cus and all the ex­ter­nal pres­sures, we are able to work to­gether.” He says there have been a few in­stances when pho­tos ap­peared with­out them re­al­is­ing they were pho­tographed. “We were pho­tographed while ex­plor­ing Bordeaux to­gether dur­ing one of my off days. She and I were rid­ing bikes. That sort of shocked me.” “But she was able to ex­plain it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter what oth­ers think. It is our thoughts and what we think of each other and our re­la­tion­ship, where it’s go­ing and peo­ple around us who love us that mat­ter. As long as we con­tinue to fo­cus on that we can con­tinue to grow.”


Woodley never knew any­thing about rugby be­fore meet­ing Volavola. In a re­cent tele­vi­sion in­ter­view on Jimmy Kim­mel Live she de­scribed the sport as “quite bar­baric”, “hard to watch” and “con­fus­ing”. Volavola says things are slowly chang­ing and he was work­ing at get­ting her know more about the sport. “I’m grate­ful that she loves watch­ing games although it is so dif­fer­ent for her. For a per­son who has never watched she now loves watch­ing rugby, es­pe­cially our Fly­ing Fi­jian games and she’s so keen to learn more about the sport and how it works. She finds it ex­cit­ing just tun­ing in. “We are hop­ing to come here (Fiji) to­gether once we do have time off to­gether. I think then she’d be able to re­ally ex­plore and sur­round her­self with the cul­ture, food and mu­sic. We’ve got to see be­cause she’s busy and right after this cam­paign (PNC) I start off with France.”


Volavola re­cently at­tended a num­ber of events with Woodley in­clud­ing the Valentino Haute Cou­ture Spring Sum­mer 2018 Show dur­ing Paris Fash­ion Week. But it was his ap­pear­ance with her on the red car­pet on 23 May for the premier of Adrift in L.A that he would never for­get. “It was a great night. Be­ing able to stand with her and take pho­tos on the red car­pet was such a new ex­pe­ri­ence. She walked me through what was go­ing to hap­pen and how things were gonna work,” Volavola said. “This movie pro­ject holds such as sig­nif­i­cance for her and me. She met peo­ple that she re­ally loves now and con­sid­ers as life long friends…and it holds so much pur­pose for us be­cause it was the rea­son why we came to­gether in the first place. “Watch­ing the movie and speak­ing to ac­tors and pro­duc­ers was such a spe­cial oc­ca­sion. I met Sam (Caflin) her co-star in the movie and he is such a great guy, I liked our con­ver­sa­tion and him giv­ing me a few point­ers. He is such an easy guy to get along with.”


Dur­ing the Jimmy Kim­mel Live show, Woodley made ref­er­ence to Fiji, Fiji Water and kava drink­ing, which many lo­cals talked about on so­cial me­dia. Volavola says Woodley made those ref­er­ences with­out any neg­a­tive in­tent or mal­ice. “I guess you can’t re­ally blame her for what she said, what she saw and what she ex­pe­ri­enced What she ex­pressed is just based on the ex­pe­ri­ence she had. She was here for only a few months strictly to do work. She will learn more about our cul­ture and all of that when she spends more time here,” he says.


Volavola said he be­lieves mov­ing to the United States was a def­i­nite pos­si­bil­ity, con­sid­er­ing that Shai­lene has a busy work sched­ule and that he now plays in Europe. But this will most likely take place post-rugby. “We are speak­ing about it ac­tu­ally. The great­est thing about our re­la­tion­ship is we speak about ev­ery­thing and we are so open,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously with her work, there’s a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity and a big chance post rugby I might move there. Yeah, we will just wait and see what hap­pens. On buy­ing a prop­erty in Fiji, he says, this was some­thing worth think­ing of. “Ob­vi­ously I have fam­ily here. I want to look after them as well and I would re­ally want to in­vest into prop­erty here in Fiji for fam­ily and for my­self. It is a great op­por­tu­nity now to start look­ing into that area.”


Volavola was frank when talk­ing about his im­me­di­ate fu­ture, ad­mit­ting he was grow­ing older and needed to se­ri­ously start think­ing about mov­ing ahead. “Speak­ing fu­ture-wise I guess I’m think­ing about mar­riage and fam­ily now that I’m get­ting older. But I also want the best for this programme (rugby) and I’m work­ing re­ally hard to take Fiji Rugby and the Fly­ing Fi­jians to a place they’ve never been be­fore. “Ob­vi­ously, the World Cup cam­paign holds top pri­or­ity for us next year. I think for the near fu­ture in 2019, it’s just do­ing the best I can for my club in France and help­ing this group (Fly­ing Fi­jians) to reach new heights.”


While Volavola says no for now, he be­lieves Woodley is some­one he’d want to grow old with. “No. Not too soon, but Shai (Shai­lene) and my re­la­tion­ship has come such a long way in just un­der a year now. See­ing a fu­ture with her and is such an ex­cit­ing thing for me. “Com­ing from a Fi­jian fam­ily and all that and the cul­ture in our coun­try, which is built around fam­ily, it is such an ex­cit­ing thing for me to think I’ve met some­one who can po­ten­tially be my part­ner for life and build a fam­ily with her so I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to that part of my life. “She’s met mum in per­son and spoke to some mem­bers of the fam­ily over the phone. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Amer­ica a cou­ple of times now to meet her fam­ily, her par­ents, ex­tended rel­a­tives and close friends. “This has been so spe­cial and has also al­lowed me to learn more about her life. One of the key rea­sons why she wants to come here to Fiji and to Syd­ney soon is to meet my fam­ily.” Un­til then, it’s a case of ‘watch this space’, as they say in Hol­ly­wood.

Volavola re­laxes at the Grand Pa­cific Ho­tel, Suva

Volavola and Woodley make their red car­pet de­but dur­ing the premier of Adrift in LA.

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