Hong Kong Rugby Union

‘We think we’re going to drown’: treacherous 14-hour ferry ride a small price to pay for a game of rugby in Fiji

Youth team First Light Taveuni win hearts and minds in Sigatoka as Hong Kong reach semis in tournament at Coral Coast Sevens

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 10:03pm

An oft-treacherous 14-hour ferry trip seems a risky way to get to a rugby tournament, but for First Light Taveuni it is a price they are more than willing to pay.

From the island of Taveuni in north-eastern Fiji, the team won hearts and minds on their way to victory as an unknown in last year’s senior competition at the Coral Coast Sevens.

That win prompted Taveuni to bring an under-19 team to this year’s event. Being unable to afford flights, they were consigned to a long ride on a “very basic” overnight ferry.

That team went down to Hong Kong in the quarter-finals of the youth competition on Thursday, but team manager Joe Rakoko knows it is about far more than results for his players.

“We love this tournament, it’s the first time for us to expose our youth team at a big tournament like this,” he said. “It depends on the weather but it can get rough on the ferry, very rough. We think we’re going to drown sometimes.”

Semi Radradra, the Toulon star who was recently named in Fiji’s preliminary Commonwealth Games squad, is one of the biggest names to come from Taveuni, with Rakoko saying “the best players have to move to Suva to gain exposure”.

Rakoko said last year’s Coral Coast victory was huge for the Taveuni community and he was bullish about their chances of going back-to-back in the men’s tournament starting on Friday: “I hope so, actually I know so.”

Hong Kong won their quarter-final against Taveuni 24-19 thanks to tries from Fong Kit-fung, Paul Altier, Marcus Ramage and Max Denmark, but they then lost 12-7 to Tuva Youth in a nail-biting semi.

Hong Kong could consider themselves a touch unlucky not to proceed to the final, despite being out on their feet late in the match.

“It was about looking at performances and ultimately we came up a little bit short [in the semi-final] but we have learned a lot,” coach Stephen Dowse said.

“It’s sevens, no matter how much conditioning you do, how much preparation you put in, you are always going to be fatigued and that’s the nature of the game.

“It’s about keeping on playing in these types of tournaments under that type of fatigue and being able to keep a clear head and stick to our structures.”

Hong Kong’s men are out to improve on their single win in last year’s tournament and have tuned-up by taking on Gareth Baber’s Fiji in a series of training matches.

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“It was good preparation for this tournament and just to get used to the Fijian way of playing, which is obviously unique,” coach Paul John said about the hit-out against a squad that is in full flight ahead of next weekend’s Sydney Sevens.

“It’s brilliant for the boys to play in this tournament and it gives them an insight into what top quality sevens is all about.

“I remember when I was on the circuit with Wales and I was speaking to the Australian and Samoa coaches and they said they came here and none of the international teams got to the quarter-finals. We’re talking the top six in the world there.

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“We were hit for six starting off last year and now the boys that have been here know what to expect.”

Hong Kong’s women had a solid opening day, losing 21-17 to Striders despite three tries to Chong Ka-yan before defeating Nadi Aviators 17-10 thanks to two more tries to Chong and one to Nam Ka-man. They face Fijiana Makosoi in the quarter-finals on Friday.