Fiji Three find home on the rugby field

A trio from Fiji bring their formidable rugby skills to the Port Alberni Black Sheep Rugby Club.

With the snow-covered Black Sheep playing field behind them

As huge as hockey is in Canada, its popularity pales compared to rugby’s role in Fijian culture.

“Bigger than hockey (is in Canada),” Anare (Jack) Rokotuiwakaya insisted in an interview at the Port Alberni Black Sheep clubhouse at the end of Argyle Street.

“Everyone plays rugby (in Fiji),” explained Rokotuiwakaya.

“They’re not focusing on any other sports.

“When we were kids, we’d play rugby. Then a bunch of guys said, ‘Let’s go play volleyball.’ We made fun of them.”

Rokotuiwakaya’s first cousins Peceli Leweni and Asaeli Rokotuiwakaya also play for the Black Sheep. All three are from the same village, which is 125 kilometres from the Fijian capital Suva. Among Fiji’s population of about 900,000, approximately 80,000 (nine per cent) are registered rugby players.

As Fiji is composed of 333 South Pacific islands, boats are the most popular method of travel. Fishing is a common occupation, and the thing that brought the Black Sheep’s Fijians to Vancouver Island.

Jack arrived first as a commercial fisherman, got married in Victoria and played rugby there.

“I played against the Port Alberni team one year, and thought it was a pretty good bunch of guys,” he recalled.

Finding Victoria living costs expensive, he and his wife moved up Island. The Black Sheep were a real drawing card to bring them to the Alberni Valley.

As the captain of a fishing boat, Jack hired Peceli and Asaeli, so they followed him across the Pacific to Port Alberni. Jack said he and his cousins found some similarities between their home village and Port Alberni.

“That’s why we like it here; it’s similar,” commented Jack, who did most of the talking for his cousins.

“It’s a little town.”

Referencing a close-knit, small-town feeling and team camaraderie, Jack mentioned that most Black Sheep players come to his house sometimes and share a traditional non-alcoholic Fijian drink.

“Same as back home; you’re on a team, everyone looks after each other,” Jack said, adding that same bond was not present on the Victoria team.

Black Sheep coach Jas Purewal praises Jack for his courage and dedication, Peceli for strength and intelligence, and Asaeli for constantly improving in his rookie season here.

Purewal, awarded a Sports Hero Award by Sport BC earlier this month, loves the respectful attitude and camaraderie the Fiji Three bring to the squad.

“There are guys who play for the Black Sheep and then there’s Black Sheep players,” Purewal summarized.

A strong fourth in the Vancouver Island Rugby Union (VIRU) Division One fall standings with a 5-2-1 record, the Sheep upended the first-place Norsemen 39-26 in a December semi-final.

Port Alberni trailed badly at halftime, said Jack, who sat out the game with an injury.

“What I saw was some guys from a little town that got courage involved,” he recalled.

“UVic thought they had it and then they started getting beaten on tackles, and the guys were really physical.”

Port Alberni blanked the host Cowichan Piggies 13-0 in Duncan in the VIRU Times-Colonist Cup final on a rainy, windy day.

The Piggies visit the Black Sheep on Jan. 23 and 24 as Vancouver Island Rugby Union (VIRU) Division One spring games begin.

What is the attraction of rugby?

“It’s a tough sport, but I like it,” Peceli responded.

“It makes you strong.”

Jack appreciates the team aspects of the sport.

“You learn new things from other players. It’s not just you in the field. It’s not all about yourself.”

Jack recommends rugby and hockey for young people.

“When you’re young, you get frustrated … and that’s the place you get your frustration out, on the rugby field. You can test yourself and see how tough you are.”

Since church on Sundays is a big deal in largely Catholic Fiji, Saturday is the huge rugby day there, meaning rugby and hockey have at least one thing in common.

Canadian weather and Fijian weather, however, are not alike.

Staring out at the snow-covered Black Sheep playing field, the Fijian trio was asked if it ever snowed in Fiji.

“No,” they shuddered in unison. “We’re still trying to adapt,” Jack admitted.

 

Mark Allan has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past 14 on Vancouver Island.

 

Just Posted

City of Port Alberni issues water quality alert for Kitsuksis Creek area

Kitsuksis Creek residents urged to use alternate drinking water source

Rain and high winds to hit Vancouver Island this afternoon

Thursday and Friday to see downpour of 20 to 50mm and high winds on Vancouver Island

Learn the basics of publishing at Port Alberni workshop

George Opacic of Rutherford Press will present keys to the professional side of publishing

Septic truck rolls over without a spill west of Port Alberni

Single vehicle crash took place on Klekhoot Crescent

Vancouver Island partners sign hull design contract for floating LNG project

Steelhead LNG and partner Huu-ay-aht First Nations say the agreement was signed in Barcelona

Sproat Lake hosts fall dragon boat regatta

Port Alberni’s Sproat Ness Dragons earn third place

Update: Search called off for missing plane between Edmonton and Chilliwack

Search efforts were concentrated along the Highway 5 corridor between Valemount and Kamloops

Why Whistler for ski jumping in 2026? Calgary proposal gets pushback

Calgary 2026 proposes re-using the 2010 ski jumping venue Whistler for that sport and nordic

Despite progress, threat of 232 tariffs dominates NAFTA negotiations

Any deal is seen to require congressional approval before Dec. 1 to survive new Mexican government

VIDEO: Hundreds line highway as family brings home body of B.C. teen

Northern B.C. showed their support by lining Hwy 16 as Jessica Patrick’s body returned to Smithers.

B.C. MP Todd Doherty receives award for saving man who collapsed on a plane

Conservative MP was flying from Vancouver to Prince George, B.C., in June last year

Alleged border jumper from Oregon facing 2 charges after police chase in B.C.

Colin Patrick Wilson charged with dangerous operation of motor vehicle, flight from a peace officer

More than 35 B.C. mayors elected without contest

No other candidates for mayor in the upcoming local election in 22 per cent of B.C. cities

‘Hero’ kid fighting cancer helping with B.C. Children’s Hospital fundraiser

Penticton’s Wills Hodgkinson helping raise funds for B.C. Children’s Hospital

Most Read