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

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

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Coroners’ inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni teen rescheduled for June 21

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure after spending time in jail cell

CELEBRATING IN STYLE
Members of the 2021 Alberni District Secondary School graduating class pose for a photo at McLean Mill National Historic Site on June 12. Graduates held their prom on Saturday, although things looked a little different due to COVID-19. See more on page A10. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Port Alberni 2021 grads celebrate prom with car cruise

Special event held at McLean Mill National Historic Site

The Port Alberni Bombers are one of the newest teams in the VIJHL. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni Bombers to host first ID camp for roster spots

Roster spots for the Junior B team will be filled at the conclusion of the camp

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Cowichan Tribes man Adrian Sylvester is worried that he was targetted by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Tribes man worried he was target of trailer hitch

Adrian Sylvester says no one has reported a missing hitch after one nearly hit him

Graeme Roberts, who was mayor of Nanaimo from 1984-86, died this month at age 89. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Community Archives)
City of Nanaimo flags at half-mast as former mayor Graeme Roberts dies at 89

‘Giant-killer’ beat out Frank Ney in mayoral election in 1984

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read