BEN RYAN

The coach who guided Fiji to gold and our res­i­dent colum­nist

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

an­other tale of a big­ger na­tion poach­ing a player from the Pa­cific Is­lands. It’s about op­por­tu­nity and mi­gra­tion.

Aliv­ereti Raka is now el­i­gi­ble for France. He wasn’t born there and doesn’t have any par­ents or grand­par­ents who might have con­nec­tions. He is a ‘Naitasiri Turaga’ – a kid from the in­te­rior and moun­tain­ous high­lands of Fiji. Waimala Se­condary School is a long way in ev­ery re­spect from a Lyceé Fran­caise.

From there, Raka played for Nadroga prov­ince at age-group level, start­ing in their U16s and pro­gress­ing up the ranks un­til he made his se­nior de­but in Fiji’s ver­sion of the County Cham­pi­onship, the Skip­per Cup – play­ing the smaller Vatuk­oula prov­ince in Oc­to­ber 2014.

Just one month later, he was in Cler­mont, join­ing one of the big­gest rugby clubs in the world. A lit­tle over four years later, he is a French cit­i­zen, he is mar­ried to a French­woman and he has a French pass­port.

Un­til we have more a tar­geted plan on how to re­ally help the is­land na­tions, this will al­ways hap­pen. Raka has made the choice to play for France over Fiji and no one should ques­tion that. He has a French wife, speaks French and has made a life for him­self over there. Oth­ers, like Pe­celi Yato, have opted for Fiji and the two of them, from the same prov­ince in Viti Levu, run out to­gether for lesJau­nards at the Mar­cel Miche­lin.

THIS ISNÕT

We all make choices on where we choose to work and live based upon our cir­cum­stances and the of­fers avail­able. Raka, who is from one of the poor­est places on the planet, moved con­ti­nents and cul­tures to make it to where he is to­day. Rugby has made a huge dif­fer­ence to him and count­less oth­ers.

Re­mem­ber, there are no op­por­tu­ni­ties to play pro­fes­sion­ally in Fiji or any

Pa­cific Is­land. There are no pro­fes­sional leagues, which means no pro acad­e­mies and lim­ited path­ways. Pa­cific Is­land teams get no slice of the crowd rev­enue when play­ing at a Tier One side. Even Fiji’s star sevens play­ers won’t be get­ting paid more than £7,000 in wages.

Play­ers come over to a new cul­ture in France and have a chance to change their lives and those of their fam­ily. Raka has done just that. A 90kg, 6ft winger who has all the eva­sive skills you would ex­pect from a Fi­jian but souped-up and in glo­ri­ous tech­ni­colour. He is a very fine foot­baller and will glide into in­ter­na­tional rugby. He’s cur­rently re­cov­er­ing from wrist surgery but could come into the mix for the lat­ter stages of the Six Na­tions. And when he does run out for les Bleus, I, for one, will be ap­plaud­ing him.

So what does Raka bring on the field that will cat­a­pult him straight into Test rugby? Box of­fice.

His pref­er­ence is to play on the left wing and that is sim­ply be­cause his MO is to clutch the ball in his left hand, ready to off­load, which frees up his pis­ton-like right arm for the ‘see you later’ fend. It’s a bel­ter of a hand-off.

The third strand to his at­tack­ing game is his 1970s hip swerve. He has an un­canny abil­ity to beat de­fend­ers that are in close prox­im­ity. For most play­ers, the tackle is met and you are brought down, but this hip swivel, com­bined with his fend and bal­ance, will get him past even the most able of de­fences.

He al­ways tends to hit the ball at speed too – just what you want your winger to do. A catch at speed, a trans­fer to his left mitt and he’s off on his at­tack­ing fo­rays. Just like his child­hood up with the wild horses in the in­te­rior search­ing for new ad­ven­tures, it’s the same on any 70m x 100m strip of grass. He’s more than a hard man to stop; he’s a pin­balling force of na­ture.

He de­fends the high ball bril­liantly and loves a cross-field kick to gather in and at­tack with. With age on his side – he’s just turned 26 – he has a cou­ple of World Cups and Olympic Games in him at least. Sit back and en­joy the ride.

Trade­mark surge Raka on the at­tack for Cler­mont Au­vergne

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