‘It is the biggest achievement of our lives’

Lavenia Tinai delivers a pass for Fijiana Fiji side against New Zealand Back Ferns Development during their clash at Churchill Park in Lautoka. Picture: BALJEET SINGH/FT FILE

SUVA, 05 DECEMBER 2019 (WORLD RUGBY) – Rusila Nagasau and Lavenia Tinai will never forget the last month, a whirlwind few weeks in which they have helped Fijiana qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in sevens and a first-ever Rugby World Cup in 15s.

Their journey has taken them from Fiji’s capital Suva for the Oceania regional Olympic qualifier, onto Lautoka for the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship and now to Dubai for the second round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series on Thursday.

While Fijiana were favourites to reach their second Olympic Games, they knew that they would have to overcome Samoa – a nation with three Rugby World Cup appearances in 2002, 2006 and 2014 – to create history and book their place at New Zealand 2021.

Fijiana duly did that not once, but twice in Lautoka with Tinai scoring a try in each victory, including the comfortable 41-13 win last Saturday that confirmed their qualification and condemned Samoa to a play-off against either Tonga or Papua New Guinea for a place in the global repechage.

History makers

Nagasau and Tinai, the most experienced members of the Fijiana sevens squad in Dubai, still cannot quite believe they are now “history-makers” and can look forward to facing the likes of five-time champions New Zealand, England, Australia, Canada, USA and France in RWC 2021.

“It has always been my dream to wear the white jumper for 15s,” Nagasau told World Rugby.

“Qualifying the team was the aim since they missed out in 2016. They had been preparing for that for two months and for us to join them and qualify for a Rugby World Cup for the first time was our biggest achievement.

“I have been there for the Olympics and for the World Cup in sevens, the Commonwealth Games and other tournaments, but qualifying for one in 15s that is the biggest achievement of our lives. Playing in the 15s World Cup, it is something we can really look forward to.

“As a team we were talking before we went out that day, saying that we wanted to be the first women to qualify the 15s team for a World Cup and for us to make that happen we had to go out and just do our best.

“Our coach told us he wanted us to be the first Fiji women to qualify and make history and he was pushing us to be the best version of us that went out there. We emptied the tank and after that 80 minutes we had nothing left but it was the best moment because we made it happen.”

Tinai, who has only been playing 15s for four months, added: “For me personally it was a huge test and I would say we are one of the history-makers because of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.

“They have been trying for three years, since falling short in 2016, and last weekend we did it.

“It was a proud moment for me personally. To be playing for that moment, it was just amazing. Even words cannot describe how it felt after the game. I was still shaking, I just couldn’t believe that we did this, we have been doing the hard yards and now we have done it.”

Home advantage

Defeats by Hong Kong and Japan meant Fijiana missed out on a place at RWC 2017 in Ireland, so what was different this time around – other than “a big boost of playing at home in front of our families” – to book their ticket to the first Rugby World Cup to be held in the southern hemisphere?

“I think probably the mindset of us, really wanting the win,” said Tinai. “We were just talking amongst ourselves, saying this is it, we have got it at home, we have got the support, all we have got to do is win this. That is all it took. Having our families supporting us was also a big boost for us.

“They are the elite teams and one thing we really need to work on now is the development of our players coming up because we have less than two years to develop and we are getting there with our development officers and Fiji Rugby is behind us. We are good to go.”

Nagasau added: “For us, our main aim for playing rugby is to inspire women, especially the young girls, and try to put plans in place for them. Not just for us now but for the future of women’s rugby back in Fiji. We are just taking it step by step, we’ve qualified the team and we are planning for the future now.”

Although it has only been a few days since qualification was secured both players have already noticed the impact their victory over Samoa has had.

“For us to go to 15s and come back to sevens, our team-mates were really happy for us to qualify the team and getting their support is the main thing for us, just to keep women’s rugby moving forward in Fiji,” said Nagasau.

Tinai added: “It even inspired the others to join the 15s, the chance to play in the World Cup. On top of that, my close friends have messaged me asking when is the World Cup so they can start saving so they can come over. They are inspired. I was laughing, I couldn’t believe I got that from them.”

Now, though, their attention is firmly on the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens and inspiring the Fijiana sevens team to success.

“Coming back from 15s, personally, it has broadened my knowledge on the rugby field and being back in sevens is just amazing, we can’t wait for the weekend to start. We have come back on a high note and are ready to go, even after training I feel way better than I used to!”

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