Kramer Bell reports on the Maples and Calder National Rugby VIIs Academy Fiji project. Bell and other young Cayman players are training, playing and living with Fijian rugby stars in that Pacific nation.
Just getting to Fiji was an exciting experience for all of us. Although it was a very long journey, it was great fun travelling with friends. Leaving the airport in Cayman was very emotional through the waiting room and on to the plane. At takeoff it was all smiles as the reality hit. We had 40 long hours of anticipating our arrival in Fiji. As we arrived at Miami International Airport we made a few rounds to Burger King and Starbucks to keep ourselves energized. Our stay in Miami was short so after the pit stop we were off to L.A. When we arrived in L.A. we braced ourselves for the long wait ahead of us. We had six hours to spend so we all decided to pull out the pack of dominoes and get a little game going on. We also came across celebrities Johnny Knoxville (actor) and Bam Margera (skateboarder) in the airport. They just so happened to be on our plane to Sydney. We were all hyped up and ready to go until they announced that our flight has been delayed. We waited an extra four hours for what was going to be a 14 hour flight. But there is no such thing as too long as long as we had our dominos.
The journey to Sydney was very enjoyable, we got two big meals and snacks in between, we thought we were in the flight to heaven. After the 14 hours we finally arrived in Sydney where we spent the five lay over hours cruising around the airport aimlessly before we were called to board our final flight to Nadi, Fiji. When arriving in Nadi we were gracefully met by Coach Venasio Tokotokovanua and his younger brother. It took us three hours to get into our final destination and where we would spend the next six weeks of our lives and by that time every single one of us was shattered and ready for bed. After some kava, of course!
When we finally arrived at Qauia Village, just outside of Suva, I felt that the boys, most noticeably the younger ones, were a bit shocked at first with the accommodations that Venasio Tokatokavanua had provided for us. However, as they say, looks can be deceiving, and they were. The house in which we are staying has four rooms, two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. It’s quite a small area for all six of us to operate in but we are finding that with the lack of space we are becoming closer and a lot of bonding is taking place daily! All of the boys including myself are very satisfied with both our accommodation, the lifestyle of Fijians, and what the location has to offer us.
The food in Fiji is not that far off from what most people tend to eat on a regular basis. Yes, they do have a lot of fast food. However, we are being disciplined and staying well clear of it whilst breakfast usually consists of cereals, toast and occasionally cake, which is a rare and very pleasant delight!
Lunches most of the time are sandwiches such as tuna fish with ketchup, or chicken with ketchup bean, eggs and other random vegetables seem to appear as the days go on. Quite shockingly it is all more than delightful. Dinners vary from curries of all sort, fish fried chicken and even the occasional mongoose! It has been agreed by all of us that every meal we have had in Fiji so far has been undoubtedly delicious and that all our parents should visit to attend local culinary classes!
The training over here is very hard after the first day of training we slept for four hours. In training we are doing many drills that link with our basic skills such as passing and catching the ball, and then it gets more intense with drills such as ripping and securing the ball and then leading to second and third stage play. But for two hours straight we are running non-stop and with the mere two water breaks it is some serious training.
The second day we had to do 15 sprints about 100 metres and 30, 50 metre sprints, jogging to the start and no rest. Then after that we had to do 30 squats with someone on your shoulders and these Fijians aren’t too light. After that you had to hold yourself up on your wrists, elbows and your tip toes for three minutes if you aren’t cringing and gasping or air after that then 30 sit ups are to follow. Then, for about 45 minutes we play 7-a-side touch, 4 teams full tournament.
On our day off I could barely walk. I have never trained so much and so hard in my life. Because of all the other aspects of Fiji rugby we are learning in training, no matter the pain we look forward to the next session with determination and an open mind.
We have watched two games so far, we watched Red Rock (the club we train with) and they easily destroyed their opponents by a good 60 points. This game was a very clean and disciplined game which is a strong example of most of the rugby played in Fiji. But we also watched another top team play (USP), and watching that game we were a bit worried about playing here in Fiji. The hits that were being dished out were intense every tackle left the person that was being tackled on the floor gasping for breathe as they had just had the wind knocked out of them. It will be interesting to see how it is when we are actually playing because supposedly as soon as we step on the field they will love to test the overseas kids as hard as they can. But it will be great for us not only because of the experience but the coach believes it will be such a boost for them, as this team has never had an overseas player, playing for them. Each week two people will be selected to play if they feel we are ready, Josh will be starting on Saturday on the wing and I will be scrum half, they both can’t wait for the experience.
The first look we got at the field was the day after we arrived. What looked to be an open field of grass with space to fit two rugby fields was a definite misconception. Within minutes the posts went up and it all became life size. ‘Albert Park’ has 4 full size fields. As the field was a misconception I had to feel the pitch for my self and see what we will be on for the next 6 weeks. Because of slight rain the grass was green and the dirt was soft. There are quite a few dirt patches but it definetly isn’t from lack of care, more the case of over use as rugby is the number-one sport in Fiji. With the field being sussed we awaited our first day of training.
When we arrive to the field, as we put on our boots and warm up, it was quickly noticed that the field, depending on weather can have many appearances. Just two days with no rain the ground was as hard as rock and the soft dirt patches are really ruff patches of sand. Because of this we all have learnt to pack both soft ground and hard ground boots and I learned to wear proper rugby socks as the sand leaves great red burns on the side of your shins.
So far we have been very limited to our tourist activities due to either lack of organisation or training, neither which are complaints, as we have been very busy. Most of the boys are managing to visit the capital of Fiji, Suva on a regular basis and we even managed to squeeze in a rather adventurous journey to the tourist district of Pacific Harbour on Monday. This was quite entertaining as our taxi driver Egbar, originally from India was quite the comedian filling our minds with all the wonderful experiences he has had whilst living in Suva and Qauia Village as a young boy. Whilst in Pacific Harbour we visited one of the beautiful beaches not too different from Cayman other then the water temperature and played some touch rugby for an hour or so before returning back to base in Qauia. I am not sure weather to count mongoose hunting as sightseeing or lunch as the locals took it very serious, but it was the most adventurous thing we have done so far. After being armed with machetes and ‘kau’ sticks we were off to the bushes. Michael Manderson was the only one to keep up with the creatures we were all unable to get a hit even when we thought we had them pined in a corner. After four hours we resorted to traps which lead to a delicious lunch in an earth oven or ‘lavo’. And that’s one more real Fiji experience accomplished.