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Nalaga continues on father’s dream

July 24
12:00 2008

image Written By : CHRISTOPHER CHAND .
As a kid Napolioni Vosawale Nalaga travelled around the country with the champion Nadroga rugby side- day dreaming that one day he would be running down the sideline for his province.
His family had a proud history of wearing the national jumper and he too wanted to be selected into the national side.
Today, Nalaga is a professional rugby player based in France and has been nicknamed Napoleon for his try scoring feats.
The 22- year- old burst out of the shadows earlier in the year for Clermont scoring an incredible 18 tries to become the only second Fijian to top the try scorers list.
Superstar Rupeni Caucaunibuca was the first in 2005 when he played for Agen but he only managed 13 tries.
Nalaga has rapidly grown into one of the nation’s most sought after players for the upcoming Pacific Islanders tour to Europe in November and the Rugby World Cup sevens in Dubai next year.
The Nasama villager from Nadroga rose through the age group sides and adds his name to the list of star Fijian wingers on the world stage even though he is yet to play for the Flying Fijians.
Club commitments kept him away from national duties during the Pacific Nations Cup.
Nalaga said the competition in France has been a learning curve and it has taught him a lot in the professional world of rugby.
“When I started playing in the T14 competition (2006) I saw Caucau’s target when he had toped the list with 13 tries so I tried to surpass him and I did that when I scored 18 tries,” Nalaga said.
“In France the competition is totally different, there we have international players from other countries playing, like players from England and the level of competition is way different than at home.”
Napo as he is commonly known at home plays alongside Flying Fijians Seremaia Bai and Vilimoni Delasau (joins Montauban next season) for ASM Clermont Auvergne.
Standing at six feet two inches and weighing 100 kilogrammes gives him a killer frame for a winger and once in full stride he is impossible to stop.
Nalaga hit the deadlines in France when he scored twice to guide Clermont past Perpignan 21-7 in the semifinal of the T14 unfortunately they went down to Toulouse 26-20 in the final.
He returned home after a hectic season and probably his best year in the competition and bought his father Kavekini who is a former national winger, a twin cab and his mother a boat for her village.
Nalaga also took out time to play for Nadroga against Tavua last week before he departed for France.
“It felt good to comeback from France and to play for my home team Nadroga, it’s been a long time since I last played for them and it was a good feeling to be playing with them again,” Nalaga said.
Known for his blockbusting runs, Nalaga dazzled his home crowd with the first touch of the ball when he ran 20 metres untouched through the heart of the Tavua defence before he off loaded for the opening try of the match.
Fans were kept at the edge of their seats whenever he had the ball in hand, bumping off tacklers and pushing them away.
To add to his menacing display Nalaga complimented his performance by picking up a try in the second half and eventually Nadroga beat Tavua 48-13.
“He played a very good game and he really showed what his made of and the depth in his game. He is a skilful and class player,” Nadroga rugby coach Joji Rinakama said.
While Nalaga captivated the home fans it was to be his farewell match before he departed for France.
Had he stayed back for another month it would have been mind blowing to see Nalaga take on Rupeni Caucau in the Farebrother challenge on August 16 between Nadroga and Tailevu.
Nalaga first played for the national Under-18 side in 2004 after being spotted while playing for Lelean Memorial School in the Deans competition and in the following year scored seven tries in three games for the U-19 side at the World Championship.
He was a utility for the U-21 side in 2006 during their World Junior Championship.
In 2004 and 2005 he helped the Nadroga Colts side secure back to back victories alongside Emosi Vucago and Jiuta Lutumailagi.
The trio then made their debut for the Provincial side in 2006 and picked up the Sanyo Cup (now Digicel Cup) after beating Nadi at Prince Charles Park before he headed to France.
Then national rugby sevens coach, Waisale Serevi selected him at the end of 2006 for the opening leg of the IRB sevens series in Dubai and South Africa.
Nalaga said he learnt how to break tackles from his dad Kavekini Nalaga who was also a lethal finisher.
“When I was young my dad always taught me how to fend. “He had told me to use my hands to push off tacklers in one on one situation,” Nalaga recalled.
“But there was also this time when he was angry with me because I played flanker for my high school team and he had always told me to play on the wings.”
His dad Kavekini was remembered when he scored Fiji’s second try in their 28-7 triumph over Argentina at the 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
The Nadroga winger is expected to be in Ilivasi Tabua’s Pacific Islanders team which will be named at the end of the year.
Nalaga has joined the list of talented Fijians wingers on the world stage like Delasau, Sireli Bobo, Caucau, Filimoni Bolavucu, Joeli Vidiri, Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Marika Vunibaka and many more.
He is also being eyed to make his debut for the national fifteens side in next year’s PNC and will be a key asset towards the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
His U-21 team mates from 2006 Waisea Luveniyali, Taniela Rawaqa and Jone Qovu have already worn the national jumper.
Nalaga will return later in the year for the Pacific Islanders tour and next year’s World Cup sevens trials.

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