Women In Sports: Rugby Above All Sports For Burnes

Burnes was born and bred in Australia and has maternal links to Nairai, Lomaiviti, which made her eligible to play represent Fiji in rugby.
11 Jul 2020 15:19
Women In Sports: Rugby Above All Sports For Burnes
Former Fijiana XVs captain and loose head prop, Lailanie Burnes (first from left) sings the national anthem with her team-mates during the Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifier at Churchill Park, Lautoka Photo: FRU Media

Lailanie Vasemaca Burnes loves rugby more than any other sport.

Despite being ranked top three in Australia for discuss, shot put and javelin for a number of years, she never looked back when she took up the sport.

She was into athletics and also played hockey, netball, football and touch before she started playing rugby.

“I fell in love with the sport, I just enjoyed everything about it, from the comradeship between your team mates, the physicality to the game itself,” she said.

“Rugby has had such a big impact on my life, I’ve made such amazing friends, it helps me to become fit and healthy, it’s a great stress reliever after a hard day at work, it has allowed me to travel to some amazing places and touch the lives of people that I would not have had the opportunity to have done so.

“But the number one biggest change I have seen it have in my life is draw me closer to GOD and seeing the work he has done in my life and those around me through the sport.”

Burnes was born and bred in Australia and has maternal links to Nairai, Lomaiviti, which made her eligible to play represent Fiji in rugby.

The loose head prop first represented the Fijiana XVs in 2016. She is a former captain and currently holds a Level 3 coaching accreditation from World Rugby.

Not only she could be seen with a head gear on. Burnes also wears different hats.

She was a TV presenter, radio announcer and spent most her years in hospitality and tourism.


Playing for the Fijiana for the past five years has taught her lessons but most of all creating history for women’s rugby in Fiji.

“The highlight of my playing career so far most definitely was when our team the Fijiana XVs qualified for the first time to next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup.”

She aims to make it to the side for the 2021 Women’s RWC in New Zealand.

“On Wednesday I was blessed to have been selected with 29 other women to join Fiji’s first ever Women’s High Performance Unit for Fiji Rugby so through this platform, training and via my provincial team of Nadi.

“I am working hard towards my ultimate dream which is to represent Fiji in the Rugby World Cup.”


Like any other sport, women are faced with many challenges on the field and especially rugby, which was long dominated by men.

“From a rugby perspective the top 3 I would have to say would be, the stigma associated with women playing a male dominated sport that were trying to be like men or must be from a particular sexual orientation just because we play rugby,” she said.

“Due to the stigma there can be a lack of support from the families of girls and the general community of women ruggers.

“The lack of financial support such as sponsorship in oppose to other more “gender acceptable” sports. Whilst these may be challenging at times I’m glad to report that things are getting better,” Burnes added.

Life after rugby

“After I retire from playing rugby I’d still like to be involved in the sport by giving back to rugby, Fiji Rugby Union and Fiji.

“And as such I have put in place the pieces to achieve this in a coaching capacity where I had recently achieved my level 3 coaching accreditation in March of this year

“This enables me to be one of only 2 coaches in Fiji alongside the trailblazing Elenoa Kunatuba who has holds this accreditation.”

Burnes is also a World Rugby educator where she is involved in co- facilitating Level 1 and 2 rugby coaching courses.

Advice to young women

“I think the role of women in sports is important as it can empower not only women but men also to change their preconceived perceptions and inspire them to chase their dreams.

“My advice to younger women is to follow your heart, if you want to play rugby there are many opportunities in place now at school such as quick rip and tag rugby to provincial competitions, for those who have left school there are many clubs and provincial teams now from the Vanua championships and skipper championships so enquire, get involved and try it out. You never know you may just love it as much as I do.”

Burnes urges women to not be validated by anyone based on your gender, socio-economic background or religion.

“If you have it in yourself to go out there and try something different no matter what anyone says go and do it. Rugby is such an amazing sport, you have fun, meet wonderful lifelong friends, you become fit, healthy and have a chance to see the world doing the thing you love.”

Burnes founded the Nadi Blazers Women Rugby Club, the region’s first female team, in 2012. The club has gone on to produce a number of Fijiana sevens and 15s players.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua


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