History: Flying Fijians Trounce the Maori All Blacks



At last! The 27 – 10 win on Saturday in Suva was a long time coming – all of 62 years in fact and this particular Fiji team and their die-hard fans deserved it.

To put it in perspective; this is only the Maori All Blacks’ second loss in 16 years – their last was in 2003 when they lost to the British and Irish Lions on tour of New Zealand and the Maori All Blacks have beaten Fiji 17 times since 1957.

The teams had met 29 times previously, with the Māori winning 20 of those and Fiji seven, along with two draws. However, Fiji’s last success wasn’t since 1957 – 17 games ago.

Fiji’s high-tempo, expansive game terrorised the Māori in Suva. The hosts made a whopping 27 clean breaks to the visitors’ six, beat 49 defenders to 15, and produced 19 offloads to 13, with the visitors forced to make double the amount of tackles of their opponents, and only managing a 63 per cent success rate.

In summary, the Flying Fijians had too much fire power out wide with Lepani Botia and Waisea Nayacalevu running riot all afternoon making crunching tackles and breaking Maori ones. The brothers manning our Wings – Nakosi and Tuisova rumbled over or through their opposition markers at will like Hummers against Skodas!

The telling stat – by halftime the Maori All Blacks had missed 21 tackles to one by Fiji and more than half of those would have been by their outside backs – they had a shocker in D.

As expected, our big forwards proved too hot to handle with the ball in hand and they held their own in the scrums and lineouts, given this was their first game together since last November in that famous win against France in Paris.

Big Bill Mata was a devastating runner from the back of the scrum, ruck or maul and scored a powerhouse try, fending off Akira Ioane then manhandling Maori All Blacks fullback, Fletcher Smith like a battering ram over 10M to the tryline.

The NBA pop pass to Mata leading to his try could only have come from one man – his Rio Olympics Games fellow gold medallist – Leone Nakarawa who was everywhere for Fiji.

Another stand out forward and fellow Rio Gold Olympian was Semi Kunatani in full beast mode. The Navosa man was our pick of the Fiji forwards for his nonstop running game, crashing the ball up the middle, or ranging out wide supporting our backs.

This team of Flying Fijians can only get better as they build up towards the Rugby World Cup in Japan with Fiji playing the opening game against Australia on 21 September.

You can already see the players hyped up and sharper staking a claim for a spot in Coach John McKee’s final RWC squad. Imagine Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova on the Wings for Fiji outside Waisea Nayacalevu and Lepani Botia in the Centres!

The one work-in-progress in our Fiji backline is Ben Volavola. He is a good player but Volavola needs to improve his consistency in some key parts of his game – kicking in general play, restarts and at goal.

Volavola has a strong passing game and runs well at times but he has 28 caps now and he must show consistently high quality return for the investment and faith shown in him by the Flying Fijians coaching team and his Fiji fans.

Local star Frank Lomani had another strong passing game at halfback, but needs to add a bit of variation to his general play to keep the opposition guessing.

Fiji has a couple of world class players in our forward pack in Nakarawa and Mata; if the others can rise around them we will give any team at the Rugby World Cup a tough time if they under estimate the 2019 Flying Fijians.

The Maori All Blacks will be licking their wounds, but believe me they will be back with some fire, stoked by the healing mud pools in Rotorua next Saturday night.

Let’s hope our next win against the Maori All Blacks doesn’t take as long as this one did.

Scorers for Fiji: For the Maori All Blacks:

  • Tries: Veitokani, Mata, Nayacalevu 2 Tries: Wainui 2
  • Cons: Volavola 2 Yellow Card: Black
  • Yellow Card: Black
  • Pen: Volavola

In fact the rugby rivalry between the New Zealand Maori and Fiji stretches back 81 years to 1938 when the Maori made a short tour of Fiji, playing three games in Suva at Albert Park; opening with a 3 – 3 draw, followed by a 5 – 11 loss to Fiji and finishing off with a 6 – 3 win.

On Fiji’s ground-breaking tour of New Zealand the following year, with many players still preferring to play barefoot, the Fijians played with a care-free, unpredictable running game, incredibly creating history by becoming the first team to go through a full tour of New Zealand unbeaten; winning seven and drawing one game.

A proud national team record that stands to this day. 

The last match of that tour saw the 1939 Fijians outclass the Maori 14-4 in Hamilton, and had the Waikato Times newspaper running out of superlatives for the Fijian style of rugby, calling it “the most brilliant exhibition of football seen in Hamilton for many years.”

They went on, “Almost uncanny in handling the ball, lightning in the pace of their sprinting, relentless in their dive tackling…and all the time pursuing methods of bright, open football, the Fijians gave a sparkling display and thrilled the large crowd.”

The Maori returned with vengeance a decade later, shortly after World War II in 1948, where they won two games against Fiji and lost one.

1951 the next time we played against each other, marked the beginning of the remarkable career of arguably Fiji’s greatest ever athlete – Josefa Levula.
Born in 1930 in Narewa, Nadi, Levula stood 1.94M tall, weighed in at 105Kg and is remembered worldwide by those who saw him play rugby union and rakavi saumi in England, for his unorthodox high-knee action and his exceptionally long stride.

Pat Raddock, a Fiji Team Manager around that time, once said Levula’s stride in full flight was measured at 4.2M. The iconic image of Josefa Levula, caught in full stride at Albert Park in Suva is in fact at the heart of the logo of The Flying Fijians.

In September of 1951, Levula toured New Zealand with the Fiji rugby team where he scored a brace of tries to help the Fiji team down the Maori 21 – 14 in Wellington. Incredibly, he played first five eighth for Fiji in that game and was later nominated as ‘New Zealand Player of the Year’.

A report in the New Zealand Herald described Josefa Levula thus; “his high-stepping action was allied to an aggressive temperament and many a Caucasian face paled at the thunderous approach of a menacing figure whose eyes burned like the light of an express train”.

It is little wonder that all teams who played against Jo Levula in his prime, found him nearly impossible to catch and virtually unstoppable once the big man got going.

Before the win in Suva on Saturday 13 July 2019, the last time Fiji beat the New Zealand Maori was 62 years ago, on our August 1957 tour where Fiji faced their old foe twice, in Dunedin and Wellington where first up Fiji absolutely trounced the Maori 36 – 13, scoring 8 tries, including a hat-trick to Jo Levula and Nat Uluiviti kicked 6 conversions. Fiji then beat the New Zealand Maori again in Wellington 17 – 8

Fiji: 15 Alivereti Veitokani, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Lepani Botia, 11 Filipo Nakosi, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Semi Kunatani, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Albert Tuisue, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Sam Matavesi, 1 Peni Ravai
Replacements: 16 Mesulame Dolokoto, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Nemani Nagusa, 21 Henry Seniloli, 22 Sevanaia Galala, 23 Patrick Osbourne

Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)

by Culden Kamea

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