‘Rugby Allows Me To Leave Home’

A Flying Fijians prop has made his dream move to Europe with Bucharest. Four months ago Manasa Saulo was cutting sugarcane in rural Fiji, waiting anxiously to discover if his
14 Nov 2014 07:00
‘Rugby Allows Me To Leave Home’
Vodafone Flying Fijians prop Manasa Saulo (with ball), charges against France in the test last week.

A Flying Fijians prop has made his dream move to Europe with Bucharest.

Four months ago Manasa Saulo was cutting sugarcane in rural Fiji, waiting anxiously to discover if his life-changing move to Europe had fallen through.

Working on the plantation was a way to take his mind off things as visa issues looked like scuppering the dream of signing a professional rugby contract with Timisoara Bucharest. He had already resigned from his post with the Fiji Navy but, after one missed flight, the paperwork was eventually approved.

Like many of his teammates who face Wales on Sunday, Saulo plies his trade overseas and sends money back to his family in Suva.

“Working on the sugarcane plantation helped me get away from the stress of the visa,” said the prop.

“You have to cut it, pull it, load it. It’s a tiring job! I had spent six years in the Fiji Navy and rugby was my lucky chance.

‘We would spend a whole month on a ship and you would see no land, only the ocean. There were no rugby balls either, just the gym set up in the engine room.

“One day I told my family that I was going to Iraq and they said, “No, don’t go”. I told them we will all die one day, but rugby gave me my ticket out. I have to thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity.”

Saulo has benefited from the improved facilities available as a professional and has now established himself in the Fijian national team.

Sunday’s match at the Millennium Stadium will provide an early test ahead of the World Cup for Fiji, which is in the ‘group of death’ alongside Wales, Australia and England. Saulo spent six years working in the navy before he got the chance to play professional rugby

Fiji-born Semesa Rokoduguni, who made his England debut last Saturday against New Zealand, could well be lining up against his countrymen next year. He is the latest star player to pledge his allegiance overseas, but coach John McKee does not bear a grudge against the Bath winger for his decision.

‘By western standards, the living conditions in Fiji are very low. There’s a lot of financial hardship. These guys build houses and provide cars for their village and family. We have great rugby players, but very little income, so it’s difficult to run high-quality programmes.

“We’re operating on about £650,000 (FJD1.973million) a year and that covers our coaching staff, touring and everything else. The players aren’t here for the money. They’re here for the pride of playing for their country.

“They get a daily allowance of about £80 (FJD243), so when England come knocking on the door, are you going to say no and play for Fiji for £80 a day?’

Wales coach Warren Gatland has been working with GPS data to compare regional rugby with the Southern Hemisphere, but Fiji only have the resources to wire up five players to the analysis system, and just one member of staff who is qualified to analyse the results.

It can also be difficult for Fiji to convince big clubs to release their players to join up with the squad.

These are just a few of the challenges of working on a shoestring, but financial constraints are nothing new and Fiji have learned to live with it, famously knocking Wales out of the 2007 World Cup.

“Rugby is in the genes for these guys,’ said McKee. ‘There’s a history that goes back to the warrior culture 100 or more years ago. For them, rugby has become a natural expression of what, in the distant past, would have been two villages fighting each other.

‘The manliness of being a warrior in Fiji has in some ways been replaced by rugby. They’re very proud of their roots.

“Our pool is massively tough, we know that, but we’re not coming to make up the numbers. If teams are beating each other, then the points situation can become very interesting. The 2007 victory over Wales has given the fans back home some very high expectations. We might have to watch a few of those clips on Friday evening,” McKee said.




Five square Da Bang Sale

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