Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The Fiji Secondary Schools Rugby Union's Deans Trophy competition has grown in popularity over the years.
It has unleashed stars who have gone on to represent the country at the highest level. The latest in the crop is 21-year-old national flyhalf Waisea Luveniyali, a Queen Victoria School old boy. Saturday's final, won by QVS was the culmination of weeks of competition in the eastern, southern and western zones. What will be asked now is where to from here?
Only two other stages can come any where near the atmosphere a Deans Trophy final carries the Coca-Cola Athletics finals at the Post Fiji Stadium just before the first term school holidays, and Fiji's sevens rugby victories in Hong Kong.
It's when the adrenalin pumps, passion radiates in the faces of fans, and the atmosphere takes on a scope of magic.
It's when issues like race, colour and creed mean nothing in the face of blinding passion.
It's when the person next to you cheering for your team becomes your new found mate. It's when strangers go against the advice of mothers never talk to strangers.
To sniff victory is exciting, but to taste victory is magic.
I'd gone down to watch the lone school from the western division, Natabua High take on the might of Ratu Kadavulevu School in the final of the Under-17 competition on Saturday.
They were carrying the hopes and aspirations of every westerner who had either made it over to the Laucala Bowl or was tuned in to one of the radio stations broadcasting the game.
I felt their mere presence, despite eventually going down to RKS, was a sign of the times. The side won last year's Under-16 title, beating QVS in the final to step into history. They defeated Dudley in the quarter-finals and QVS in the semi-finals of this year's Under-17 grade to meet RKS in the final.
The only other time Natabua or any other school from the western division had ever reached an important stage of the competition was back in 1992.
That was when Natabua went down fighting to the Orisi Basiyalo captained Suva Grammar in the eliminations at the then National Stadium.
So when Natabua Under-17 number eight and skipper Tevita Navuda led his men out, I felt goosebumps.
I watched as the lead changed hands and marveled at the pace Natabua's openside flanker Rusiate Nawa packed when he raced from inside his 22m line to score a breath-taking try in the closing minutes of the second spell. It lifted Natabua's spirits.
But then exposure and big game'time kicked in to guide RKS to a 21-15 victory.
Natabua led 10-7 at halftime. The late comeback by RKS brought them back to earth.
But I felt there were lessons to be learnt there. Lessons I felt can only make the western side better in the lead-up to next year's competition.
They'd effectively dispelled the notion that the top rugby players only went to schools in the eastern and southern divisions.
That game set the stage, at least for me, for what turned out to be an exciting Under-19 final between RKS and QVS.
Every sign pointed towards a tough clash. The stage was set early in the semi-finals.
Both teams had picked up mistakes and said they'd ironed them out leading up to the final.
It was now about which team wanted the win more.
I watched as QVS players knelt one after the other in a show of respect after shaking the hand of one of their own, Suliasi Lutubula, the president of the FSSRU.
That scenario spoke a thousand words.
It showed respect, acknowledgement and acceptance of a man who had played in the biggest game of schoolboy rugby, and won the coveted Deans Trophy.
It was a touch of humility and humbleness I felt was missed by thousands of people that windy and damp Saturday afternoon.
I felt those few minutes spoke highly of the spirit of the Deans Trophy competition.
Lutubula was one of them. He was a QVS old boy. And the QVS squad showed him respect reserved only for men who had reached the epitome of the sport.
Such moments in sports leave a lasting impression on the minds of those who are fortunate enough to see them.
The question now is where to from here? Especially after QVS won 7-5. Lutubula feels the onus is now on provincial unions in the country to lift their game and get their acts together.
"It is unfortunate that some players disappear after the Deans Trophy final," he agrees.
"If the unions do not get their acts together, development at this level would be wasted.
"Players will always move to greener pastures.
"We are developing players from the base, from the grassroots.
"They can only go up from here, which is why it is very important that the provincial unions set a platform that makes the transition easy for these players.
"We are always talking about frontrowers for instance the fact that we don't have them.
"But look at our competition. You have tighthead and loose head props who can be nurtured for the national team. "The important thing is that they're already playing in those positions at secondary school level and are getting exposure."
Lutubula believes the Fiji Rugby Union would do well to scout for potential talent at the annual schoolboy competition.
"We have to do that now or lose some of these players to other countries," he says. "I think the important question is where do they go from here. I think they can only go up. But for that, work needs to be done by a lot of people and unions and it's for the betterment of the game in then country." It is a sentiment shared by keen followers of the game. I noticed a few members of the champion Lelean side from last year have moved on to provincial union rugby like five eight Kaminieli Neiqisa for Nadi and hooker Viliame Satala for Lautoka. Lelean's exciting openside flanker Sakenasa Aca and centre Tomasi Mawi are now in the national sevens squad heading for the South Pacific Games in Samoa.
It will be interesting to see what happens after the final of the Deans Trophy competition.
Stars have been unveiled. The potential is there. It is now about sitting up, taking notice, and hopefully, the powers that be will be doing the right thing, to nurture these stars.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online