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EDITORIAL: Sefanaia Naivalu And The New Rugby Plus Culture

Sefanaia Naivalu is living the dream. The Melbourne Rebels star player was recently re-signed to the Super Rugby Club until the end of the 2017 season. His sights have already
06 May 2015 11:57
EDITORIAL: Sefanaia Naivalu And The New Rugby Plus Culture

Sefanaia Naivalu is living the dream. The Melbourne Rebels star player was recently re-signed to the Super Rugby Club until the end of the 2017 season. His sights have already turned to wearing the Wallaby jersey in the not too distant future. Good for him.

Not so well known is the system that helped take him to the top.

He is the product of the Rugby Plus programme, founded in 2006 to keep young Pacific Islanders in meaningful employment and out of trouble. The programme operates under the umbrella of Island Breeze Australia, a ministry of international Christian mission organisation, Youth With A Mission (YWAM).

Unlike current international rugby recruitment programmes in Fiji and the Pacific Islands, the programme is not just limited to rugby development. Its founders consider character development and service to the community as essential components of the programme as well.

Ovalau native Waqa Baravilala and his Australian wife Jade who founded the programme treat the young people who enter the programme as members of their family. They help the young Fijians with cultural adjustment to life in Australia, recruit them for the Melbourne-based Box Hill Rugby Club, that has formed a partnership with Rugby Plus, and mentor them in their professional and personal development. Notably, former Wallaby Radike Samo has also joined the Box Hill Rugby this year. Box Hill was the runner-up in the Dewar Shield, Victoria’s premier rugby competition. The Fijian influence has mainly been the cause of the rise in the club’s fortunes in recent years, according to reports in the Australian media.

Once a week, according to Australian media, the Fijians head down to St Kilda, a Melbourne suburb to help feed the homeless. It’s the kind of work that keeps their lives in perspective and helps them stay focused. Even Wallaby and ACT Brumbies star Henry Speight is an admirer of the programme and keeps in regular touch with the Baravilala family and the Fijian players.

Rugby Plus also provides rugby clinics in Fiji and across the Pacific. Lending a helping hand in these clinics is former Flying Fijians coach Ilivasi Tabua, who passes on his considerable rugby expertise to young Pacific Islanders.

If other recruitment programmes in Fiji could learn from Rugby Plus, it would make a tremendous difference. In the cruel world of professional sports, where every man, woman and dog fends for themselves, the world of Rugby Plus could be the way forward for the development of Fijian rugby.

Vodafone National 7s coach Ben Ryan and Nadroga Rugby Union president Jiko Matawalu, in our opinion, are thinking the same way as the Baravilala family, albeit on a different scale. They want the best for their players and are willing to challenge the status quo to ensure this is done.

The new Fiji Rugby Union Board might want to invite Waqa and Jade Baravilala to make a presentation to them on how to take Fiji rugby forward. They already have a proven track record to show their holistic approach to player development. Just ask Sefanaia Naivalu.

 



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