Rocky road

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 March, 2004, 12:00am

IF IN A WHIMSICAL mood, Fiji Rugby Union chairman Pio Bosco Tikoisuva might have started the announcement of his squad for Hong Kong by asking: 'Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?'

He refrained, of course, and, only upon the entire selection being named did those assembled realise inspirational captain Isineli Naqelevuki was omitted due to injury and outstanding stalwart Saimoni Rokini had replaced him as both centre and skipper.

Rokini, popularly known as 'Rocky', entered Fijian folklore when, purely through the insistence of his cousin Waisaele Serevi, he was drafted into the starting line-up for the 1998 Hong Kong Sevens final and played superbly as Pacific arch-rivals Samoa were overcome 28-19.

He made a significant contribution to Fiji's success the next year too, before joining Serevi at Stade Montois in France and focusing upon the 15-a-side code. Rokini gathered 11 Test caps and was an unused 2003 World Cup squad member.

The 31-year-old's sevens outings have been limited in recent times. He crossed the English Channel for the 2002 Twickenham Sevens and in January led a Fijian Development line-up who triumphed at tournaments in Argentina and Chile.

Coach Senivalati Laulau certainly has no misgivings over Rokini's credentials, saying: 'He plays a good commanding role. His leadership is great on and off the pitch. The whole team has enormous respect for him and, needless to say, his playing ability is proven.'

Nobody would query the esteem Rokini commands, yet it will be a huge task for him to harness the talent within a largely inexperienced party, maintain discipline and deliver what the whole of Fiji believes is theirs by right - the Hong Kong crown.

Constant tinkering with the squad's composition has exasperated Fiji's army of supporters. Certainly, their favourites have had meagre opportunities to jell as a unit.

Only three Fijians who graced Hong Kong Stadium last year survive for the 2004 event. Of this trio, mobile forward Mesake Davu probably left the greatest impression. His performances helped win a call-up for the 2003 World Cup squad, but he didn't add to his two Test appearances in Australia. Hopefully, Hong Kong aficionados will witness Davu's drop-kicking prowess this time. Filimone Bolavucu's endeavours 12 months ago led to a contract with Waikato in the New Zealand National Provincial Championship. Nevertheless, the abbreviated game remains his forte and the livewire winger is among the best recognised figures on the international sevens circuit.

Unlike Davu and Bolavucu, Jone Dauinivucu has been unable to cement a squad place; featuring only spasmodically. However, Laulau, who discovered him in the remote Yasawa Islands when a schoolboy, still has faith in him fulfilling an obvious potential.

Robust forward Mika Leawere was an absentee in 2003; discarded after failing to fully do himself justice a year earlier. The lanky former first division soccer player fought his way back though and is now a squad regular.

Temesia Kavaia returns after four years away from Hong Kong. A schoolboy athletics champion, he was originally initiated into the global sevens arena in 2000 following a stint trying rugby league in Australia. A reliable winger, he has never let Fiji down. On the other hand, there are few signs of him developing into a world-beater either.

Yet one more to tip six feet, Lemeki Duidomo was introduced to IRB sevens at Wellington in February and has retained his place.

Mosese Duinadamu has even less experience. Originally brought into the squad for Los Angeles, the tournament sandwich between Wellington and Hong Kong, the cousin of former sevens captain Jope Tuikabe hails from a small village on Vanua Levu, Fiji's 'second' island. He moved to the capital Suva to develop his rugby skills and his efforts in the colours of the Red Rock club there have gained him promotion.

The three debutants, Ponipate Katololo, Ilaisa Bose and Mosese Yabakitini also prospered through outstanding form on the local sevens scene. Katololo would have travelled to Wellington if not suspended for missing training. He has obviously been forgiven. Bose, captain of the successful Waimanu outfit, and Yabakitini caught the selectors' eye for his defensive qualities.

And so, Laulau has under his wing a classic mixture of youth and experience. The influence of the latter will probably hold the key to Fiji's fortunes.

Since being appointed Fijian mentor in October, 2002, Laulau has instilled much-needed discipline into his charges, but doubts persist over his tactical knowledge and motivational skills.

If Rokini can contribute to those on the field, the sevens world's most naturally gifted team will have every chance of recapturing past glories.