Naca’s Super Challenge

"From a young age - you can imagine I was surrounded by my dad's sports training texts and manuals since he graduated from Jiwaji University in India with a Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Sports and PE (physical education)," he said.
04 Oct 2021 08:43
Naca’s Super Challenge
Fijian Drua head of Athletic Performance, Nacani Cawanibuka (right) with his father, former national rep and coach Alivereti Cawanibuka in Suva on August 21, 2021.

Surrounded by sports people while growing up is what drove Fiji Rugby’s strength and conditioning coach, Nacani Cawanibuka, to excel in his field of work.

After helping our men’s rugby sevens teams win gold medals at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, he is now taking on a new challenge.

Fondly known to many as Naca, he was recently appointed Head of Athletic Performance for the Fijian Drua team which are to make their Super Rugby Pacific debut on February 18.

“It’s a blessing,” Naca told SUN­sports.

‘Tm grateful for the opportunity to grow and help Fiji’s first batch of professional players transition into the tough environment of Super Rugby.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity but one that comes with huge demands and responsibility. I’m sure this will inspire my fellow Fijians that all is possible with constant learning and evolving our skillset, knowledge and practice.

“Being a former rugby player, former high school teacher- hopefully this can inspire someone out there, that it is possible with lots of hard work and family support. You will never be the finished product. For me it’s about learning, growing and focusing on the next job.

“It is about chasing daily your best version. Hopefully this will now create new mindsets, habits, behaviours and practice for our coaches and players on the island to make that shift and transition because of this new rugby venture.

“What we’ve waited for is here. It won’t be easy and there’s a lot to learn in the new rugby landscape of Super Rugby.

“With time and work with the coaches and staff within the system, God willing, players will make necessary physical, athletic and rugby performance improvements to be robust, resilient, smart and professional to cope with the demands of playing our game in the world’s most exciting and toughest rugby competitions with some of the best coaches and players in the game”


Naca indicated that there is no pinnacle of his coaching career but taking on this role is only a transition.

“We cannot settle with the past because our next test is what we are evaluated for and remembered.

That’s how i like to think of my journey. I keep pressing forward toward the mark and looking to learn new things and experience

new challenges, meet new people and contribute better in whatever the call.”

The 44-year-old hails from Tavuki in Kadavu while his mum is from

Ekubu in Vatulele, Nadroga. Naca is married with two children.

Fijian Drua head of Athletic Performance, Nacani Cawanibuka (right) with his father, former national rep and coach Alivereti Cawanibuka in Suva on August 21, 2021.

His love from sports started at a young age since his dad Alivereti Cawanibuka coached Fiji in three sports- volleyball, athletics (track and field) and the men’s rugby sevens team.

Family support

Naca said, there is no greater support system than having your own family.

“From a young age – you can imagine I was surrounded by my dad’s sports training texts and manuals since he graduated from Jiwaji University in India with a Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Sports and PE (physical education),” he said.

“My elder sister was a champion shot putter and discuss thrower for Fiji. She also represented the nation in weightlifting internationally.

“My younger brother also a very good player and has a more intelligent rugby brain than myself. And obviously our mum was the rock, the granite that held everything in place- she loved her rugby being a Nadro lady.

“We love all sports and been privileged to help out with many sports in Fiji at community level and national level and will continue to do so because it’s our calling to share the gift to our people.

“The family is so important and the time parents spend with their children is integral to moulding their future. Parents are influential and important to set that discipline, benchmark and behaviour that kids emulate and chase. That has been influential on my journey.”


Naca attended Stella Maris School before completing his high school studies at Marist Brothers High School. He completed his tertiary studies at College of Advanced Education, University of the South Pacific and Otago Polytech.

He holds a Diploma in Coaching, Bachelor of Science in Sport Science, ASCA, World Rugby Trainer in Strength and Conditioning and Oceania Sport Education Program Mentor Strength and Conditioning.

Naca grew up at Tamavua Village outside Suva, in his first seven to eight years and the next 17 years was at the Nasinu Residential College (now known as Fiji National University Nasinu campus).

“My dad was the principal at that time.

“This was where most of my education, sports, personal development and life skills was formed and harnessed in an institution where most of Fiji’s great teachers had been groomed.

“I was blessed to be in a learning environment growing up with a lot of children and young people my age who were children of lecturers in the college.”

They had access to the college gym, grounds, basketball/tennis courts, rugby fields, cross country running routes, farming plantations where he learnt to plant and live off the land.

“The 100 steps staircase down to Nasinu Secondary School was where I used to run on most mornings including lots of verandahs to use rollerskates, and lots of hills and paths to learn how to ride a bike, play pani, lots of mango, wi, coconut trees to climb and get stronger and also get hurt at times.

“It was like living in an Education Village- six miles outside of Suva City,” he said.

“It was awesome and one that was the foundation of my education and sports journey.”

Naca used to sit next to the Nasinu College grounds for about 10 to 12 years and watch players like sevens maestro Waisale Serevi, Marika Vunibaka, Apenisa Valesu, Usaia Biumaiwai, Sakeasi Vonolagi, Salacieli Naivilawasa, Alifereti Doviverata and the Rauluni brothers train and play most afternoons.

“I had the blessing and privilege of being exposed to all this, from as young as 8-years-old and the next 17 years. This didn’t change until I joined them in training and playing. We even had the Fiji Volleyball team and the Fiji Rugby teams that my dad was coaching back in those day have daily meals at our place.

“And my late mum who was always supportive. She was the rugby lady who made sure everything was looked after. My siblings and I reveled in this setup as we were exposed to so much learning and friendships in sports and education.

“It was so much fun and a massive privilege. I am grateful to all my family, extended family, school teachers who taught me, my family at my church, and friends who have helped shape me.

“Ultimately God to whom I’m so grateful, has been the author of my story and He never ceases to amaze daily with gifts of challenges and new learnings to make me a better version of myself to be able to give and share to the world. I am also immensely grateful to the Fiji Rugby Union for the support and faith invested in my development to grow professionally and perform. This includes all the boards, senior management, staff, coaches and teams over the years who have taught me so much during my time. There are alot of good people who have laboured so much and continue to do so from within the organization making sure that our national sport thrives and excels.

Coaching journey

“Twenty years of coaching has been a joy,” Naca said.

“Having coached and played at club level for Nasinu, then coached high school first XV rugby for Marist Brothers and the Fijian Under-18 XVs and 7s teams back in 2004 before moving into the physical conditioning space at national level since 2007.”

Naca said he would be teaching in a school in the country if he did not pursue further training into strength and conditioning coaching.

“Principles and values are key to progressing. Love, respect, integrity, humility, learning mindset and hard work are things I have learned along the way that transcend the victory podium and bigger than sports and achievement.

“It is the rock of all success past, present and future. What I’ve learned, I’d hope to evolve and improve and help the new Super programme in its foundation years and contribute to Fiji’s future in sports education development and performance.”

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua


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