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No One Like Toni: Ratu Ilaitia

Racika who was fondly known to his team-mates as Toni played at hooker while Ratu Ilaitia was at lock.
08 May 2021 14:45
No One Like Toni: Ratu Ilaitia
The late Atonio Racika during his induction to the Fiji Rugby Union Hall of Fame in March, 2020.

Ratu Ilaitia Tuisese (Snr) cried when told of the death of his former national rugby teammate and fellow Naitasiri countrymen Atonio Racika.

The men are among the few who are regarded as the country’s rugby legends.

Racika who was fondly known to his team-mates as Toni played at hooker while Ratu Ilaitia was at lock.

They played an important role in the national team as Toni’s calculated lineout throws had to find its target in the form of Ratu Ilaitia.

This was in the era, where lifting was not allowed in the lineout and everything had to rely on how the two would time it to perfection.

Ratu Ilaitia Tuisese Snr.

Ratu Ilaitia Tuisese Snr.

“Toni was someone who gave his all on the rugby field,” Ratu Ilaitia said.

Racika died early this week, just a few days away from his 77th birthday.

He hailed from Nasirotu, Waimaro in Naitasiri.

Ratu Ilaitia said they were part of the Naitasiri team as well in same national rugby team that played Welsh in Suva.

Racika was the country’s top hooker days right to the 1980s.

Both men starred for the national rugby team that beat the British Lions 27-21 at Buckhurst Park, Suva, in 1977.

“Toni scored a try in that win,” Ratu Ilaitia recalled.

In 1970, they also played for the national rugby team that beat the British Barbarians 29-9 at Kingston Park, Gosforth, in England.

Racika played 30 tests for the national rugby team. He had his first Test cap on August 21, 1969 against Solomon Islands in Papua New Guinea. His final Test match was against the New Zealand XV in Suva on July 23, 1980.

Tears

“I was very sad, I cried when I learned of his passing but then there is a time for everything,” Ratu Ilaitia told SUNsports

yesterday.

“I called his wife after that just to comfort each other, knowing the ruling that we have now.

“Last week, Samisoni Viriviri Snr (another member of the team that beat the Lions) passed on and this week was Toni.

“We started off together (with Racika) in 1959 and the same squad played against Wales here in Fiji,” Ratu Ilaitia said.

“After that we started this journey. (Isoa) Volavola was the hooker then.

“After Volavola went, Toni took up the role as first choice hooker and he kept that position until the day he retired from the game.

“A tough man, you know to be able to stay in that position as a hooker and stay that long that goes to say a lot of things regarding the man,” Ratu Ilaitia said.

“He was a hardworker in the field, there is no doubt about that. Silent worker, he has been there in the thick of things.

“That’s what I remember of the man. Toni was a very genuine hard worker. He gives his all and everything in the game,” Ratu Ilaitia added.

Respect

“There were a few of us from Waimaro, Naitasiri playing at that time- Toni, Apenisa Tamairavua, Josateki Radrodro and myself – we were very close.

“We had a lot of respect for each other because that was the mode of operations for us from the highlands. It has always been like that.”

Radrodro and Tamairavua retired before them.

“I retired later due to injuries suffered but Toni continued for a little while.

“He was always happy. He does not stay on his own, he socialises, always mixes around,” Ratu Ilaitia said.

“He was a very good team player, a team man. In the field, he does his job well and off the field he does not isolate himself.”

Hall of Fame

Ratu Ilaitia and Racika were inducted into the Fiji Rugby’s Hall of Fame in 2020.

“I was happy when the Fiji Rugby Union honoured him. We were a few of those that played “For God and country,” he said.

“Although there was nomoney, we did it- that was our time. This is a different era, players have become professionals,” Ratu Ilaitia said.

Racika was survived by his wife, Emeline, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He will be laid to rest in Pacific Harbour, Deuba, today.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedback: sereana.salalo@fijisun.com.fj



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