Life After Sports: Kolinivala Uses Rugby to Empower Youths

Epi Kolinivala always had the interest of our young people at heart. A retired Fijian Naval officer now based in Juba, South Sudan because of his contract with the United
10 Jul 2020 11:44
Life After Sports: Kolinivala Uses Rugby to Empower Youths

Epi Kolinivala always had the interest of our young people at heart.

A retired Fijian Naval officer now based in Juba, South Sudan because of his contract with the United Nations, he sees sports as a career opportunity for many of our young people.

A fearless hooker during his playing days, Kolinivala said it was his humble upbringing in the village of Namarai in Nakorotubu, Ra that helped shape his life.

“I was educated at Bureiwai District School then to Nakorotubu District School and in 1976 I attended Nausori Tutorial College,” he said.

“I could not continue my studies because my parents found it hard to support my education financially. So we decided that it was best for me to support my family in the village by planting cassava.”

Kolinivala said one afternoon while working in the family farm he heard on the radio that there was going to be a Navy recruitment drive in Suva.

“I made up mind to give it a try so I asked my mum $2 for my bus fare to Suva,” he recalled.

Little did Kolinivala realised, that was going to be the turning point of his life.

From the 600 people who attended the interview, he was one of the seven who got selected.

It did not end there, while he was still undergoing his recruitment training Kolinivala was pulled out and accompanied Kolinio Rakoroi for further training at the Royal New Zealand Navy Training School in HMNZ Philomel in Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore.

“The training time was great and we were with Wayne Shelford (legendary All Blacks No.8).

“We nicknamed him ‘Bark’ as he was always barking out instructions in our class since he was a leading PTI (Physical Training Instructor) in the New Zealand Navy Training School. Later, Bark played for the All Blacks.”

Kolinivala resigned from his work in 2005 as he took up his appointment with the UN.

Good Old Days

Apart from going out to sea, Kolinivala began to make his mark in rugby.

He played for Navy in the Suva Rugby Union club compeititon and for a few years they left Suva and joined the then Rewa Rugby Union (now Tailevu Rugby) club games.

“I made it to the security forces team which was known as Combined Service and went on to play for Suva and Rewa in the major union,” he said.

Kolinivala’s biggest break came when he was selected for the Fiji Colts (now known as the Fijian Under-21) team.

“That year we played Auckland when they toured Fiji. Also we took on the Samoa and Tongan national teams as well,” he said.

As the Colts first choice hooker, Kolinivala played alongside former rugby greats like the late Sairusi Naituku, Jone Kubu, Ilaitia Savai, Alivereti Dere, Dusilele Bola, Serupepeli Tuvulua, Elia Rokowailoa, Tomasi Cama, Ilaitia Musunamasi and Nemani Matirewa.

“They were all tough games and I was named along with my colts team-mates to attend the national trials,” he said.

But things, did not work out as planned for Kolinivala due to the depth and caliber of players at that time.

“For the hooker’s position, there were three senior players Peter Kean, Epeli Rakai and Salacieli Naivilawasa who were at the height of their career so it was pretty tough for me to make the national team,” he said.

“Also, the nature of my job prevented me from concentrating on my game.

“As a naval officer I was out at sea most of the time. Today, I’ve sailed across the 300 islands around Fiji. Apart from that was my overseas deployments for peacekeeping duties in Lebanon and Sinai.”

Looking back, Kolinivala highlighted that helping the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) beat Police to hoist the Ratu Sukuna Bowl in 1986 was the best moment of his sporting career.

“Police had won the Sukuna Bowl for seven years in a row and RFMF supporters around the globe was desperate for the win.

“We beat our brothers from Nasova that day. Our team was captained by Koli Rakoroi with top players like Elia Rokowailoa, Alivereti Dere and Tom Mitchell,” Kolinivala said.

He officially announced his retirement from rugby in 1998.


As age was catching up Kolinivala decided to take up coaching and he started with the Navy side.

In 2000, he took leave from work and went to Malaysia to coach their national sevens and fifteens teams.

“I spent two years with Malaysian Rugby. When I went I took a young Nasoni Roko after spotting him play for the Waimanu 7s team in Nausori along with Sireli Naqelevuki,” he said.

“That was the start of their career and it helped mould them to become better players.”

On their return Roko played for the Fiji 7s team that won the 2005 Sevens Rugby World Cup in Hong Kong. Naqelevuki also made it to national 7s team that won the 2005/2006 World Sevens Series for the first time.

He played for Western Province in South Africa’s Currie Cup championship and later represented Stormers in the Super Rugby competition for several seasons.

In 2003 and 2004, Kolinivala coached Suva in the provincial championship.

“When I took over as Suva’s coach in 2003, they had just survived a promotion relegation clash against Ovalau in 2002. I had to build the team up and we made it to the final against Lautoka,” he said.

“In 2004 a new franchise competition was introduced and I coached the Suva Highlanders and we made it to the final against the Coral Coast Stallions.

“I was able to introduce Sisa Koyamaibole and Sunia Koto in the competition and they were stars of the Ilivasi Tabua-coached Fiji team that beat Wales and reached the quarterfinals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.”

Today, Kolinivala is a World Rugby Level Three coach.

Helping hand

From his work and playing experience, Kolinivala began to experience the difficulties rural club administrators go through and sacrifices they make in order to expose their talented players and give them a hope for a better future.

Kolinivala was touched and realised that he could make a difference in the lives of our young talented rugby players.

He began by helping organise the Namarai 7s Tournament, which was staged at the Nakorotubu District School Ground.

“Our mission was to provide sporting opportunities for our youths,” he said.

Screenshot 2020-07-10 at 11.18.01 AMIn 2006, Kolinivala established the Uluinakau Rugby Club.

The club has now taken ownership of the sevens tournament and rebranded it to Uluinakau 7s.

The club is based in Lagilagi, Narere where they have a team camp and have involved youths in the area.

The Uluinakau RC previously played in the Northland Rugby Union competition then Naitasiri Rugby Union’s Samabula Zone.

“The club has around 40 youths from the Nasinu area involved and we are seeking out extra activities to keep them occupied,” Kolinivala said.

Uluinakau RC players. who have made it to the national 7s team, are Josua Vici and Setareki Bituniyata.

Both players are now playing in France while other players have secured jobs with the security forces and are now playing for them.

Kolinivala said rugby was now a professional sport where players should make the most out of it for a better future.

“They need to plan and prepare well. Especially, when their career is coming to an end and they should be able to make a smooth transition,” he said.

“If they are playing they need to look at education options and network opportunities that they could tap on to help in their development and something to fall back on when their career comes to an end.”

Edited by Percy Kean


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