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Tragedy Spurs The ‘Tank’ As He Rolls On To Next Assignment, Pacific Games

“I also could not finish my Year 11, so I returned to the village to help my mother (Vitorina Cakaunivalu) in the yaqona farm. Rugby was always something I was good at so I continued playing and I thank God for giving me the talent.”
18 Jun 2019 15:43
Tragedy Spurs The ‘Tank’ As He Rolls On To Next Assignment, Pacific Games
Fiji's Asaeli Tuivuaka fends off New Zealand's Joe Webber on day two of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Singapore on 14 April, 2019. Photo credit: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Beyond his direct-running and hard-tackling, little is known about Fiji Airways Fijian 7s utility Asaeli Tuivuaka.

The 23-year-old debuted for Fiji in March at the Vancouver, Canada, leg of the World Sevens Series and hasn’t looked back since.

One of the five rookies in the team, Tuivuaka’s role became particularly prominent towards the end of the season. He was required to play at rover for Fiji’s pool games with Kenya, France and Samoa during the London leg as replacement to the suspended Vilimoni Botitu.

Despite playing out of his favoured forwards position, Tuivuaka put in a fair shift as Fiji overcame a tough pool to win the tournament.

His growing popularity also sparked a debate about his surname.

“My real name is Asaeli Tuivuaka and not Tuivoka,” he says.

The confusion stemmed from World Series television commentators using the name ‘Tuivoka’ during the Vancouver leg before switching to ‘Tuivuaka’ in Singapore.

“Many have confused my name and posted it up on social media. I was embarrassed when I saw people calling me Tuivoka.”

His journey to the 7s team has hardly been straight forward.

He has suffered loss, including the death of his mentor brother and father, and has had to overcome adversity. Rugby kept him going, he says.

“I nearly quit the sport when my brother, Mario Senimoli, died in 2011 while training with the Tabadamu 7s team,” he says.

“I also could not finish my Year 11, so I returned to the village to help my mother (Vitorina Cakaunivalu) in the yaqona farm. Rugby was always something I was good at so I continued playing and I thank God for giving me the talent.”

His father, Elia Atunaisa, died in 2005 when Tuivuaka was in Year five at Nakavika Primary School.

While speaking about the deaths, he shows some vulnerability.

The events still affect the prison officer deeply and in some ways drive his ambition to become a top Fijian rugby player.

“My brother and father’s death really affected me because they were my role models. My brother wanted to play for the national 7s team also but never got the chance so I’m completing his dream,” he says.

Representing Namosi Secondary from 2010 to 2015 before being drafted into the senior Namosi team in 2016, Tuivuaka was never the biggest nor the fastest player on the field.

“I always just tried to work the hardest. That was something my dad and brother taught me,” he says.

“And that is one advice I will also give anyone trying to join the 7s team. Nothing is impossible if you work hard. Make use of the rugby talent God has given you and don’t look back. Follow your dreams.”

Tuivuaka says his current mentor and uncle, former Fijian 7s captain Setefano Cakau, has espoused similar values.  Most will remember Cakau as the unassuming captain who led Fiji with a stern face from 2003 to 2008 in the IRB Sevens World Series.

Cakau was also known for his fierce goose-stepping ability and fearless running, some of which has seemingly brushed off on Tuivuaka, although the youngster still lacks match experience.

But the signs look positive for the former Fiji Airways Fijian Drua and Fijian Warriors forward, provided he can stay disciplined and follow his training regime.

In 19 matches for Fiji, Tuivuaka has scored five tries with the bulk of his contribution coming as a second-half substitute.

Although the Nakavika, Namosi, native says he would like to play more, competition for places within Gareth Baber’s intricately-assembled squad is tough – something Tuivuaka understands all too well.

On the field, Tuivuaka’s robust style has earned him the nickname ‘The Tank.’ He laughs off the tag.

Off the field, Tuivuaka tries to be the entertainer who puts everyone at ease with his jokes.

He says he does it to maintain a relaxed team environment and enhance the camaraderie among the players.

“I always spoil Jerry (Seremaia Tuwai) and (Alasio) Naduva because they’re both my tauvus from Vanua Levu,” he said.

“But the players know when to be serious and I think there’s an important balance there in that regard. Our coach (Gareth Baber) also talks a lot about team work. He has been a positive influence on me.”

Fans will closely follow Tuivuaka’s progress ahead of the 2019/2020 World Sevens Series and the Tokyo Olympic Games next year.

His next assignment will likely be at the Pacific Games in Samoa next month, where Fiji will defend the gold medal.

It doesn’t get any easier thereafter and Tuivuaka will need to be at the top of his game to secure selection.

“I know it won’t be easy but I’m going to give it my all to make the team.”

Edited by Osea Bola

Feedbacksheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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