SPORTS

Uluinakau 7s Here To Stay

Sevens rugby is not only regarded as the country’s national sport. In fact sevens rugby plays a crucial role in terms of ru­ral development, social progress and for many young
28 Jan 2018 11:00
Uluinakau 7s Here To Stay
Uluninakau Babbas Sevens team during their pool session at the Damodar Aquatic Centre yesterday. PHOTO JONA KONATACI.

Sevens rugby is not only regarded as the country’s national sport. In fact sevens rugby plays a crucial role in terms of ru­ral development, social progress and for many young Fijians they see it as a career path and how they could become successful in life.

This is the story behind the Uluinakau Sevens tournament.

The tournament started way back in 2005 in the Tikina of Nakorotubu in Ra and now has be­come one of the most-awaited events for teams around the country.

Speaking to SUNsports tournament founder Epi Kolinivala said the idea came up when they needed to raise funds to renovate the village school in Namarai.

“That is the Nakorotubu District School,” the former national rugby sevens selector said.

“After the first tournament, which was held in the village, we saw that it was important to es­tablish it as an annual event. This was done on the basis of getting youths from the tikina of Nakorotubu in the province of Ra to be involved in sports, especially in sevens rugby.

“The tournament grew from there and began to attract other teams from the province and later on it top teams from the around the coun­try came in.

“As the years progressed so did the growth of the tournament, in terms of popularity. And we began to attract bigger teams like Red Rock, Wardens, Police and many others. Our village fast became the new centre of attraction in terms of being the new national sevens tourna­ment in the Ra province.”

Kolinivala said this led to the formation of the Uluinakau Babaas 7s team, most of its players are from Nakorotubu.

“We really encouraged them to be actively in­volved in the game,” he said.

Kolinivala who was also a former Suva rugby hooker said, it was a move they had to make, understanding that there were a lot of hidden talents in the province, which were yet to be ex­posed.

This is where Kolinivala and his group of sporting pioneers realised they had established a platform of opportunities for their youths.

“It was a chance to make a name for them­selves in rugby either in the local competition or overseas. Making the national sevens or fif­teen teams or securing an overseas contract where they earn some money and send back it to their families in the village or as long as our youths fully utilise their potential.

BIG NAMES

Kolinivala said what was first established to be a tournament for the Nakorotubu Youths, has become a national event.

“Even the Uluinakau 7s and 15s teams began recruiting players from the other 13 provinces in the country.”

This opened doors for teams all over Fiji par­ticipating and competing in the tournament.

“It was in one of our many tournaments that potential players were identified and later they became big names of the game.”

Kolinivala said these players are Pio Tuwai, Timoci Matanavou, Sireli Naqelevuki, Nasoni Roko and Lepani Nabuliwaqa.

“The significance of our tournaments and the Uluinakau team were that it never emphasised on getting big names but rather on developing players and helping them grow in the game,” he said.

He said they never had any big names in their teams but what they had was young new players trying to make it to the big stage.

“One in particular is the current Fiji Airways Fijian 7s player Samu Bale, who hails from Na­korotubu.”

Kolinivala said this was what made their tour­nament different from the rest.

CHANGE IN VENUE

In 2008, the organisers decided to move the tournament to Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori. This is because of the growing interests from big teams across the country.

“So we had to limit the number of entries to 24, taking in only the cream teams from around Fiji,” Kolinivala added.

From that time till today, 10-years on, the Ul­uinakau Sevens tournament is still being held at the same venue.

Kolinivala said past successes from their hum­ble beginnings to date, enabled them to send their teams overseas.

Due to these overseas exposures, the Uluinakau Rugby Club secured a partnership with Central Coast based- Woy Woy Rugby Club in Australia.

“We’ll be sending four players this year. They are expected to be in Australia by March 7 for a one-year contract with the club,” he said.

“The duration of their stay is be totally up to the players and how well they are performing.”

Kolinivala said the players would also be given the contract opportunity for the Woy Woy Rug­by League team.

“This way, our players are exposed to overseas club rugby environment which paves the way for them to a world of opportunities.”

SUPPORT 7S BID

“We need to have a World Series 7s tournament here in Fiji. It will be good for the development of the sport and especially for the crazy fans in the country.”

He said Fijians had proved to be good enter­taining fans, making reference to the past rugby tournaments and Super Rugby clash between Crusaders and Chiefs that saw a full-house at the ANZ Stadium.

“We don’t understand why World Rugby is de­laying the approval, Fiji also contributes a lot to the development and growth of sevens rugby all over the world,” Kolinivala added.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

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