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Fijian Rugby Fraternity, Family Mourn Teleni’s Passing

We’ve lost a rugby great in Teleni, but let our prayers bring peace to his family in this time of sorrow. Thanks for all those rugby memories, Moce mada skipper!
02 Mar 2020 11:32
Fijian Rugby Fraternity, Family Mourn Teleni’s Passing
Rugby Union at Concord. Sydney Vs Fiji.Led by captain and lock Esala Teleni, April 21, 1984.

Editorial:

The country’s rugby fraternity mourns the death of former national rugby captain and legendary number eight forward Esala Teleni.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama admitted during the Fiji Rugby Union Awards Night on Saturday that he was stunned when told of the passing away of Teleni, a former Fiji team captain, coach, diplomat, loyal workmate and friend. Originally from Namuka in Lau, Teleni completed his education at Marist Brothers High School before joining the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Naval Division.

Teleni later served as Police Commissioner, Fiji Ambassador to China and Fiji High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea. But Teleni was perhaps the darling of Fijian rugby fans in the 1980s.

He starred for Army in the Suva Rugby Union’s Escott Shield competition and later the annual Ratu Sukuna Bowl challenge against the Police team.

Teleni’s trademark were those bustling runs from the base of the scrum as he was unstoppable when close to the try-line during the provincial rugby competition, where he played for Suva.

Photos of some of those spectacular tries of his were on the front and back page of the Sunday daily newspapers back then.

On June 2, 1982, he made his Test debut for the national rugby team.

His big moment came in 1983, when the then executives at Rugby House made changes in trying to lift the image of Fiji Rugby. This saw the return of Inoke Tabualevu as head coach with Ratu Tu’uakitau Cokanauto being the manager.

They appointed Teleni as captain and re-introduced running rugby to the national team. The Fijians walloped Queensland 48-24 and a week later Sydney 33-19 at the then National Stadium in Suva.

Teleni led from the front as they ran riot over the Australians with super boot Severo Koroduadua, Paulo Nawalu, Acura Niuqila, Sani Tagiveitaua and Kaiava Salusalu making their mark in international rugby. But later were taught a valuable lesson of forward play by Andy Hayden’s Auckland side as they romped to a 33-16 win.

In 1987, Teleni joined Arthur Jennings’ South Seas Barbarians in a rebel tour to South Africa. The team defied an apartheid ban on South Africa during that time. The Barbarians recorded 10 wins, a draw and two defeats in that historic tour. Teleni was suspended from all levels of rugby after the tour and missed out on the 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

In 1988, on his return, Teleni captained Suva when they beat Nadi 15-4 at Prince Charles Park to claim the prestigious Farebrother Sullivan Trophy, after 21 years. But it was his leadership qualities that made him a standout.

As the team bus zoomed past Suva, Teleni surprised players and officials when he told the driver to stop at Suvavou Village. He got out with a bundle of yaqona (kava) and told everyone to follow him as they made their way to the home of the then Tui Suva.

Teleni made a traditional presentation seeking the Tui Suva’s permission and blessing if they could play for Suva since most of the players and officials were from other provinces. The Tui Suva gave his blessings, approved the request and the rest was history.

Many of our rugby players look up to Teleni for he always leads by examples but moreover had time for them. His death has seen condolence messages from players and coaches from around the world posted on social media.

Players like Serupepeli Tuvula, Reverend Jioji Rinakama, Koli Sewabu, JonetanI Waqa, Setareki Tawake, Ben Nawaqavou, Ilaitia Tuisese Jnr, Iosefo Bele Tabalala and many more. We’ve lost a rugby great in Teleni, but let our prayers bring peace to his family in this time of sorrow. Thanks for all those rugby memories, Moce mada skipper!

Feedback: leonec@fijisun.com.fj

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