Fijians in Europe - the Mid-term Report
15 December, 2011
|While Kini Murimurivalu (left) fights hard to reclaim a starting spot at Clermont Gabirieli Lovobalavu is relishing playing alongside Wallaby Matt Giteau at Toulon. |
Post Rugby World Cup and all that followed, both in Fiji and elsewhere, with coaches, managers and a few CEOs coming and going, a few thoughts on the on-the pitch action as we approach the half way point in many of the leagues, and the club cup competitions.
In France there is one more day of Top 14 action before the Christmas break, together with the 4th round of 'H' Cup and Amlin Challenge this weekend. Across the channel the action does not really stop. Commercial reasons see the English clubs playing in the 'Christmas window', when the paying public are on holiday. There is talk of the European season becoming a summer season, but that is another story.
Those contracted Fijians who were involved in New Z have had varying fortunes on their return to their respective European clubs. Some have had to undergo remedial surgery, like Albert Vulivuli at Racing Metro; others have had to wait for visa/work permit clearance before being able to integrate into the team squad. Ravai Fatiaki is a prime example, having had to take a written English language exam before being allowed to play. He is still to make his first team debut for Worcester Warriors.
Of those that did get the all clear, or had no problems on their return to Europe, appearances in the team jersey have been mixed. The six week absence allowed others to establish themselves; Kini Murimurivali has found his place firstly occupied by rising star, Noa Nakaitaci, and then the arrival of the likes of Lee Bryne of Wales and a certain Sitiveni Sivivatu. A starting place at ASM Clermont is hard to earn.
More experienced campaigners, be it their first season with a new club, or returning to a familiar set up, have found the 'going' easier. At Montpellier both Masi Matadigo and Timoci (Jim) Nagusa have continued from where they left off last season, helping Montpellier to kick start a faltering first few weeks in the absence of their RWC stars. Likewise Gaby Lovobalavu, my pick of the Fijians last season, who seems to relish playing alongside Matt Giteau at Toulon (scoring in the 1st min on Tuesday against Saimoni Vaka's Agen - the latter continues to perform well nevertheless).
Sisa Koyamaibole at Lyon and Vereniki Goneva at Tarbes have both made typical "Big Impact" arrivals for their new clubs, despite their late arrival. Ilisea Keresoni at Perigueux has had to slot in as the newly promoted Pro D2 club struggle at the next level up. Amongst the forwards, Deacon Manu is just starting to feature for the Scarlets, likewise Sunia Koto at Narbonne, where an Australian franchise is establishing itself. Netani Talei is part of an exciting Edinburgh team.
And those players that did not go to the RWC, for whatever reason. A few players to mention: Noa Nakaitaci (ASM), and Virimi Vakatawa, (RCM) who have both made the headlines in France despite their age and inexperience in the Top 14. Sireli Bobo and Jone Qovu both give their all to the team, (RCM). Sireli Naquelevuki at Exeter and Seri Rabeni for La Rochelle. Of the rising stars in Pro D2 , Venione Tamaya and perhaps the Vakacegu brothers or the Domolailai’s.
However I am certain that only one Fijian can be considered top of the class in Europe: Timoci Matanavou has adapted to the Top 14 as if he had been playing there for a few seasons. Top try scorer and the reason Toulouse rule the roost in both the 'H Cup' and the domestic league.
Marc Thompson @rugbymarc.com