Proud Fijian stars staying loyal to their native land

The resources of Fijian rugby have, by necessity and design, been ravaged over the years by the loss of 80% of their highest quality players.

With a national population of less than 900,000, the success enjoyed by Fiji in world rugby, particularly in Sevens, has been remarkable. But that has precipitated a mass exodus out of the country and particularly to near neighbour, New Zealand.

Hooker Tuapati Talemaitoga moved to the land of the long white cloud, to play with Southland, but stayed true to his homeland by declaring for Fiji. He is likely to make his 18th appearance off the bench at Thomond Park this afternoon and finds it easy to describe the warm glow he feels each time he gets to wear the white jersey.

“I know young people in our country love the All Blacks and dream perhaps of playing with them some day, but it’s not for everyone, and it’s not for me,” he said. “I was born and raised in Fiji and played age group for Fiji until I moved to New Zealand. I’m proud and happy to represent my country.”

Fijian coach Inoke Male revealed this week up to 30 top-class players had been made unavailable by their clubs for this tour, forcing him to largely rely on less experienced players to trundle their way through Britain, Ireland and Georgia as per an IRB-orchestrated tour.

While the situation is frustrating for Male, who will be judged on the results, there are positives. Talemaitoga figures the youngsters in the squad can benefit by being exposed to a higher level of rugby.

“It is very difficult,” he said. “Particularly for overseas-based players to adapt back to the Fijian style and it’s not fair clubs haven’t released some of our top players. However, we have a few young good boys coming up and it’s good to be able to help these boys settle in.”

He hopes that will happen today in Limerick.

n Former Fiji and Toulouse wing Maleli Kunavore died in hospital on Thursday night. Kunavore, who retired in 2010 after he suffered two major injuries to his arm and underwent a cardiac operation, was part of the Fiji side that reached the quarter-finals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

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