Podcast S02E02 – Special Edition interview series with Barrie Sweetman by Culden Kamea #TeivovoSports



S02E02 Special Edition interview series podcast with Barrie Sweetman, Life Member of the Fiji Rugby Union FRU, by Culden Kamea #TeivovoSports #TeivovoDigital #TeivovoRugby

Podcast S02E02 – Special Edition interview series with Barrie Sweetman by Culden Kamea #TeivovoSports

Listen to “S02E02 Special Edition interview series with Barry Sweetman by Culden Kamea #TeivovoSports #TeivovoDigital #TeivovoRugby” on Spreaker.

Listen to full episode to hear the full scoop…

Special interview with Barrie Sweetman by Culden Kamea #2

Bula, this is Culden Kamea for Teivovo Rugby. 

Welcome to my second interview with Barrie Sweetman. Barrie first came to Fiji from New Zealand in the 1960s as a young lawyer, and we covered his early life here around rugby in Lautoka, and then later with Fiji Rugby Union after he moved to live and work in Suva in Episode One. 

Barrie Sweetman is a Life Member of the Fiji Rugby Union FRU, a former Senator of Fiji, Chairman of the Fiji Electoral commission, Chairman of the Fiji Electoral Boundaries Commission and Chairman of the Constitutional Officers Forum – Officers Commission, rather. 

He was awarded the 50th Anniversary Independence Commemorative Medal in 2020 and the officer of the Order of Fiji OF.

This interview focuses on Barrie’s recollections of great games and players from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s. 

Over to you Barrie.

Yes, Culden well I had sort of a role already with Fiji Rugby in the sense that I was a west selector, moving to the east side I had to give that away, but I was asked if I would become a member of the Executive Committee of the Fiji Rugby Union and I was elected onto that in 1971 I think was my first year.

At that time, Pat Raddock was the Chairman, Derek Robinson was the Secretary and a few other people that I was closely associated with like Inoke Tabualevu they were also on the committee. But my first role was really just as a committee man. 

But I was also asked if I would become a National Selector. Having been the – well I actually was already a National Selector. I had been made a National Selector in 1970, but I was still on the West, so I just continued my role as a National Selector. That was a three year appointment at those days. You were a National Selector for three years and came up for consideration again. 

I think my terms did it three times. I did nine years. That was on the selection side. 

On the Admin side, I was Assistant Secretary under Derek (Robinson) for a year, and I then ultimately took over Derek’s role as Secretary of the Union.

By 1973, having had a couple of years there, Pat Raddock had decided that he was going to give up his role as Chairman. So the Chairman’s role became vacant and there was an election of the Fiji Rugby Union for that role. I seem to recall that Tom Vuetilovoni I think, stood against me. And it may have just been a contest between Tom and myself, could have been another. 

But I was elected as Chairman at that time and took up my role as Chairman of the Union in 1973. That role was later on extended a couple of times through to about 1983, so I had about ten years altogether as Chairman.

Those guys were extraordinary hard working people. It’s probably hard for people to envisage this, but we were running a national union. We were organizing competitions, not just locally amongst the major unions but amongst the minor unions. We were organizing international tours inwards and outwards.

And we had but one paid employee. There was a lady whose name I can’t remember offhand, but she was our sort of typist in the office. We didn’t even have an office of our own. We had a space at the Northern Hotels office down in the Queensland Arcade, just a corner of the office, where our girl sat with our typewriter, which was the only asset of the Union apart from a few smelly jerseys and a few rugby balls. 

And the Union was effectively run by its Chairman and its Secretary and its Treasurer. 

I don’t think anyone would question that at the time. The running of the Fiji Rugby Union at the time, although there was an Executive Committee, which included other people. 

They were helpful, in the sense we could give them different jobs of looking after this or that, by looking after gear, looking after grounds etc, the spade work was essentially done by three people. And we allocated that out, initially, between myself and Derek. 

I tended to handle correspondence with New Zealand, because they were people I knew better and probably also with Australia, and Derek was handling it at the IRB level of the the Home Union’s – England and Wales, Ireland and so on. So that’s the way we split up the responsibilities there. 

This was a fascination to me because I’d never been involved in rugby at the International level. I had a bit of involvement in New Zealand as Club Secretary for Grammar Old Boys for a number of years and I got to understand the Club set up in Auckland and how it worked. 

To some extent how New Zealand rugby worked, but I knew not that much about international rugby per se. Derek was someone who had a little more knowledge in that respect that I had, because he had been with the Union since the 1960s. He had been very involved in the organisation of the 1964 tour of Wales when Fiji toured Wales on its first major tour. That was something that could be attributed almost directly to Derek. 

It wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Derek.

Similarly of Wales playing here in 1968, you could attribute that to Derek. And to some extent I think you could also attribute to him the All Blacks coming here in 1968, although I might have been able to give it a little bit of gentle nudging in the background on that. 

But Derek was absolutely vital to our international relations over that period of time through the 60s to 70s, and gradually I think I took over that role. Certainly once Derek migrated out of Fiji, in the mid-1970s I think, I am not quite sure when Derek left and Setareki Tuinaceva became Secretary and a very good Secretary too. 

And Tui again tended to share the correspondence in particular. He took quite a load of correspondence off me, but I tended to retain the connections at the top level with my fellow Chairmen. 

And of course, looking at New Zealand and Australia at that time, the two Chairman – Ces Blazey was Chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union and Sir Nicholas Sheady was President. The President was there top person rather than Chairman. He was head of the Australian Rugby Union. 

And both Cess and Nick – I call him Nick although he was really Sir Nicolas. He was Nick to me. I always called him Nick. They were extremely good friends, not any personal, but friends of Fiji rugby. And whatever I was in need or I thought that we needed some assistance from Australia or New Zealand, I simply had to go to them. Sometimes it wasn’t always to Ces Blazey. It was later to people like Ron Don, who had been very close to me in Auckland, and was then by then a very influential position on the New Zealand Rugby Union Council. 

So Ron was a prime mover in New Zealand to getting any tours arranged whether inward tours to New Zealand from Fiji or outward tours from New Zealand to Fiji. 

Nick and there was a guy called John Dedrick, was Secretary of the Australian Rugby Union and another great guy, a great friend of Fiji rugby, always helpful. The Treasurer was another guy, he was extremely helpful. 

So we had this huge help from Australia and New Zealand, which I was so relieved to have. Whenever we needed help with the referees, whether it was in coaching. Could you give us some referees for a coaching session? No problem at all. Could you give us some people to help with the coaching session? No problem at all. We said no about it. It was just a matter of asking, and we would get. 

So that was the relationship we had. I felt early on, particularly after the success of the UK tour of 1970 and the New Zealand tour of 70, that we could do this. We were in demand.

We could play the sort of rugby, we showed that in 1970 against the Barbarians. We could play the sort of rugby that was in demand and people wanted to see. We were not short on invitations.

New Zealand wanted to have us, Australia wanted to have us, UK wanted to have us again and so on. So again, it was all very well to say they wanted us, but to arrange the finance, everything that goes with the arrangements for a long term tour, it was something that we really didn’t have all the wherewithall for. 

In those days, I’m not quite sure what the arrangements are in modern day rugby now that it’s professional, probably everyone has to stand in their own feet. 

But in those good old amateur days, the general rule was that if you were going to host the team, from say Australia or New Zealand, they would get themselves here. New Zealand would say they’ll get themselves here. We had to pick up the tab from the time they arrived until the time they left.

In other words, all expenses here, through to accommodation, transport, etc, etc. was on the rugby union, and they paid to get them here. 

That was the rule in the early days. I think that changed later a bit. We kept the gates. And of course, keeping the gates was the critical thing. 

And if we could get a good gate, which we could always do out of the All Blacks or the Wallabies, we could more than cover the expenses of the tour – we would have a little bit left over.

In fact, in early 1970s, after we had – I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.

It didn’t happen till the 1980s. But by the 1980s, we had gradually built up a bit of a credit with the bank. 

At least we had a bitter relationship with our bank, we had a few dollars there instead of wanting to borrow money all the time we had a few cents or dollars to put in, and we had a situation where we could go to them, cap in hand and say, “Look we want to buy a property in Suva for the Union. Do you think you could lend us the money?” 

And they said, “Well, if you’ve got a deposit?” We have got a deposit. We’ve got enough money left over from the All Black tour. We put down a deposit of the $10,000 or whatever it was. We needed to borrow about another hundred. And our friendly bank came to the party. 

And we finished up with our dear old property which we have still, today. Which is perhaps not the greatest looking property in Suva, but it only cost $110,000 at the time – so I think we bought pretty well. 

Barrie Sweetman with wife Anne Sweetman after receiving the 50th anniversary of Independence commemorative medal during special investiture ceremony at State House on October 8, 2020.

In relation to our Pacific Island brothers – Tonga and Samoa, Barrie had this to say:

Well, I would say that was an up and down process – we loved each other at times; we hated each other at times. That’s sort of part of the relationship, I think between the three rugby nations; strong adversaries – fought like devils on the field, off the field, great mates. 

Yes, I think we sort of got out of, we kept a good relationship always with Tonga. Tonga had an up and down relationship with Samoa – they had terrible sort of struggles on the field occasionally, and one tour, I forget which it was, Tonga to Samoa or whatever, but the tour broke down half way through, and the visiting team went home in huff and relations got to a really low end. 

We didn’t get to that stage, although we had a walk-off here once at a Samoa-Fiji game where I think it was the Samoan team walked off. 

We weren’t at our best with Samoa. There was a lot of arguments there, but we sorted it all out off the field.

When that tour broke up between Samoa and Tonga, they asked me, and I thought this was quite good of them – Samoa and Tonga asked me if I would mediate in some way between Tonga and Samoa to get things back on the rails again. 

I took that as a complement really, that they wanted me to do that. 

So I went ahead and met with the head of Tonga and the head of Samoan rugby. And I said, “Look, we’ve got to sort this out. We can’t have this nonsense in the Pacific.” 

“And what I’m suggesting is that we have a round-robin competition between the three countries on an annual basis. That we set up a competition that we will each play each other every year and we’ll have a home and away. 

So Tonga will play Fiji once in Tonga and once in Fiji, Samoa will play that way, Samoa will play once in Tonga and once in Fiji, so everyone would have a home and away. 

That was the initial plan. Well, we got it partly done because I think we just got through the one round. I don’t think we achieved that first year a home in a way, but we had at least achieved games between the three nations. We got the thing going.

And that was to me, you know, I had a great deal of pleasure in seeing that happen and getting us back on track again and getting those relationships going again, because we’re all very close together as rugby people. 

There’s a huge bond between the Pacific countries in rugby; we’re starting to see it now through Super Rugby out of the Drua and the other team that’s developing there, the way that Pacific rugby is really adding something to South Pacific rugby. 

It used to be all about Australia and New Zealand rugby, but now I think they’ve now finally realised, that we are of some use to them after all; hopefully that will grow as time goes on. 

On the Fijian Drua in Super Rugby Pacific:

I personally think it’s the best thing that’s happened to Fiji rugby for a long, long time. And I have attempted to make it happen. I think if one goes back through the records. I was looking at something just the other day.

I’d written a letter to the editor of Rugby News in New Zealand around about 1990 I think it was, when our rugby was really at a pretty low end, and the Union was broke and there was really no way out of it. 

I was putting it very strongly to Australia and New Zealand that it was really time that we thought about a Tri-Nations in the South Pacific. That was before we thought of the wider picture, that Fiji, which at that time I think was accepted by Tonga and Samoa as being the leading nation in the Pacific, that we would have at least an annual fixture against Australia and New Zealand. 

So we’d have a Tri-Nations there. That was the start of that idea of getting something going regularly, but what I wanted more than anything else was to get Samoa and Tonga into it as well. So that we had what I would call a Five Nations. And I think that time I was even suggesting that Argentina might get into it as well and we were probably way ahead of it then, because Argentina didn’t join until relatively recently. But that we could have what I called a seven nation competition in the South Pacific. 

They could have their Six Nations up there. We would have New Zealand Australia, Argentina, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – is that six or seven? I thought it came to seven. Maybe it’s only six. 

Is the Fijian Drua playing in Super Rugby Pacific good for Fiji?

I think it is. It’s going to give us some balance now for our national team. At the moment, up to now or up to very recent times, our national coach has really had to pick his national team for the World Cup out of players in the Northern Hemisphere simply because there had not been players in the Southern Hemisphere playing at the requisite level of rugby to fit them for World Cup rugby. 

Now, we played around with it a bit, in our earlier years, at times we played dismally, at times we did quite well. But I think even in the most recent episodes certainly in the World Cup in New Zealand we didn’t look so good. 

The one in Japan at times we looked a little bit better, but overall it wasn’t all that good. So I think it meant we had to get more depth into the experience of the players in the Fiji team and to achieve that we really had to pick them out of the French clubs and the British clubs where they were playing top class rugby. 

Maybe there was an odd guy in New Zealand, an odd guy out of Australia we could pluck out, but no one locally would be up to the mark.

But now we’ve got a situation where we’re going to be playing through the Drua, in a competition that I believe in Super Rugby is probably the best rugby competition in the world and that compares with the British competition, the French Top 14. 

You name it, you tell me where I would say that the top six teams in the super rugby will be better than any of them. They’ll beat any of them. And if we can get our feet into the water so to speak, get into the trough with the best teams in New Zealand, the best teams in Australia. That’s just going to get us better and better and better. 

We won’t see miracles immediately. I thought last year we performed extremely well. I thought to get a couple of wins in our first year was very, very good and I have greatest respect for the team. 

And I think this year we might be able to do one better. We’ll just go a little bit better. Let’s not get too optimistic. Let’s not say we’re going to knock over the Crusaders or anything silly, because that’s just not going to happen, but we can get better. We can get better and eventually we will knock over the Crusaders. 

Give us a few years; we’ll knock over the Blues, we’ll knock over the Chiefs, we’ll knock over the Highlanders. I firmly believe that – it’s just a matter of maturity, exposure, that’s what it’s always been about.

Rugby at Test level has always been about exposure, exposure. 

That’s why I tried very hard. I tried as hard as I darn well could during my period in Fiji rugby in the 70s to get our players exposed to international rugby out there. So we were playing the All Blacks, we were playing the Wallabies, we were playing Wales, playing England, playing Ireland. 

That’s the only way you can make your players better.

We couldn’t go and play Super Rugby, so what’s the other option? We’ve got to play internationally rugby don’t we? We’re going to get done over occasionally. We may get beaten by 60 points by the All Blacks occasionally. That’s all part of the learning curve. The All Blacks aren‘t going to beat us by 60 points today no way.

Look at the shock we gave them last year down there. Look at the way we did a rolling ball and scored a try. Look at the way we’ve got a penalty try against the All Blacks. No one would have dreamed of that happening. But you get Jason Ryan ,a really top-forward coach, stick him in there with our team, he can perform miracles. They can perform miracles. 

What about how 7s rugby started in Fiji in the mid-1970s?

That takes my mind back a bit.

I carry a little bit of pride on this one, because it was during my reign there as Chairman, that this invitation came in from the Hong Kong Rugby Union. It invited us to take part in a seven-a-side competition in Hong Kong. I think they wrote to us in 1975 or late 75, telling us it was going to happen in 1976. 

We had a little bit of time to think about it, not that much time. So I raised it with my Executive Committee and they said, what the hell is seven-a-side? 

We had a guy called Brian Whiteman with us who said, “I know a bit about sevens. I played seven-as-ide in England.”  “So Brian, you can be in charge of sevens. You know all about it. The rest of us don’t know anything about it.” 

I had played one game of sevens in my life. I forget what year it was. 

One year in my senior rugby life. We had a warm-up at the beginning of the season where some bright spark decided we were going to have a seven-a-side competition.

And each Club had to send in a seven-a-side team. I was one of the idiots who was chosen to play sevens for Grammar Old Boys. And so I went in there. I have never been so totally stuffed in my life.

I was so totally exhausted after it. I have never been so exhausted in all my life – that was my personal experience. 

Anyway I said, “How are we going to do this?” And the consensus was that we should have a local tournament, a provincial tournament. We had a provincial tournament where we asked each of the major provinces – we couldn’t extend it to the minor unions, so we said we’ll just stick with the major Unions; so Rewa, Suva, Nadroga, Nadi, Lautoka and Vatukoula each sent in a seven-a-side team. 

We’re going to have a competition and we’ll see how we go. And from that we’ll select a team.

We even nominated different, I was still a Selector, I think. I’m not sure whether we had different selectors. Then we’ll pick a team from the trial, these trial games to go to Hong Kong. So everyone was happy with that. 

All expenses were being paid, no cost to us except assembling the team and getting them to Nadi Airport. So, Rewa won the competition very well. They had a startlingly good team. 

And we decided, I think I was one of the selectors, we would send the whole of the Rewa team. They would go as Fiji, they would play as Fiji.

And we picked the whole of the Rewa team. We called Ilaitia Tuisese as the Captain-Coach. I said “Tui you’re the Captain, but you’re also the Coach.” We had Tevita Rabuli, Tui Cavuilati and all those guys – Joe Rauto, they were a startling team at seven-a-side. 

We had two outsiders, Tomu Jani from Suva, and one of the Ratudradra boys from Lautoka They were the team that went to Hong Kong. 

So anyway, they went to the 7s. And as history will tell you, we got knocked out in the semi-final by Australia, who eventually won the tournament. 

But in that semi-final where we got knocked out, we had played two spells of extra time against Australia – Joe Rauto ordered off and playing with six players in extra time and we got through those two sessions, Australia couldn’t score against us. They eventually did. They won the semi, they went on and they won the final. 

So the next year, we got serious. We thought, well we can darn well win this thing. So we really got serious.

We had four trials, and picked the team and we won the thing. 

The rest is history.  

Now, I would be telling a lie if I said, “I was a fan of sevens rugby.” Like good XVs men, I’ll always be a XVs man. I’ll always believe that the game of rugby is played by 15 men, not by seven men. But there were two games. 

We have rugby, which is XVs, and we have sevens. 

And the two are totally different games. And let’s always treat them as totally different games. Let’s not get them mixed up together. Let’s not think that a guy can play sevens who’s going to be a good XVs player with vice versa. It’s rubbish. 

There are horses for courses, and you’re either a XVs player or you’re a sevens player. And I think now the world has started to realize that. It used to be a time when New Zealand would send their lumbering All Blacks up to play in the Hong Kong 7s. They don’t do it today. 

You’ve got to have horses for courses. But as for sevens rugby generally, it is a wonderful thing for Fiji, a wonderful thing for Fiji. So don’t get me wrong.

When I say I’m a XVs man, I applaud sevens for what it is. I’m so proud of the boys who’ve been to the Olympics and won two gold medals. I think it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s great that we have won several world cups. I wish we’d have had a couple more, but that’s beside the point. We’ve won a lot of other tournaments whether Hong Kong or elsewhere. 

I think it would be a foolish man who ever said that Fiji is not the best sevens team in the world. And that’s despite the fact that we’re going to lose the odd game here and there. There’s going to be the odd tournament that we won’t win and who cares. You can’t win them all, even the All Blacks can’t win them all. 

So I think it’s been excellent for Fiji to be able to hold our heads up proudly as Olympic Champions. That’s a tremendous goal for anyone, any athlete to have an Olympic gold medal.

Let’s hope that sevens prospers, but let’s hope that at the same time, XVs prospers. 

Because I’m afraid and I say this advisedly that at least for a period of our history and I don’t need to go into the dates because I think everyone is already aware of them. We were playing brilliant sevens. We were winning Hong Kong sevens and our XVs side was a disaster, a total disaster. 

And my explanation of that time was we were putting far much too much time into sevens and not enough time into XVs. Remember that XVs is the game that makes rugby. 

It’s World Cup rugby that matters. World Cup rugby is a lot more important than a gold medal at the Olympics – a lot more important. 

If we could ever, ever, ever one day win the World Cup rugby that would be something fantastic for Fiji. And I believe that given time we could get up there.

What about Women’s Rugby Barrie?

I can remember, as I’m sure you can, the days when we used to have an East-West game and we’d have it down at Albert Park and it would be at night always. 

And we would have a curtain raiser between two Women’s teams and they’d come out and they’d play a form of rugby that probably not too many people would call rugby, but it was highly entertaining – put to that way. 

Usually slopping around in the mud because in those days the Hibiscus Festival time was known for wet weather. So they were clamouring around in the mud, but it was a far cry from real rugby. That’s all we knew about Women’s rugby. 

Now I first encountered Women’s rugby on one of our tours to Britain. I think it was 1973 where we transited through Los Angeles, on our way to UK and we watched there – the team watched a game of Women’s rugby in Los Angeles. 

I was totally impressed. I couldn’t believe that women could play rugby of that quality. They were playing it like men. They were going through all the motions. They were playing extraordinarily good rugby. That was well before New Zealand or Australia and certainly Fiji really got into its act. 

I’m not quite sure when New Zealand and Australia came on board, but it was certainly after America. I think the movement started in America and Canada. I think they were the first to start women’s rugby. And of course, eventually it had to get here. 

And our girls I am sure last year surprised everyone. They certainly surprised me and I think anyone who says they weren’t surprised would probably be telling a lie. 

But it was a nice surprise to see them playing the style of rugby they played and to see that they were capable of playing up to and winning against those Australian girls in the Australian competition. 

That’s, you know, it’s not an easy competition to win, particularly against the top teams like Queensland and New South Wales. So there might have been two or three teams that were not at all that great, but the top teams are very, very strong sides. 

And for us to win that competition shows that we’ve got the girls that can make it up. Now, okay, so in this last World Cup, we started learning the real facts of life, and that is that to get up there with the big girls, you know, you’ve got to have a lot more experience and time in the game. 

We haven’t had enough time in the game yet. But given time in the game, given exposure is the big thing. Whether it’s 7s or 15s, the key word in rugby is exposure. We’ve got to get it. And the more exposure we can get for our girls, yeah fantastic. 

They’re winning in the 7s – a silver medal – 7s will always be our forte. Our 7s girls will always play better than the 15s girls will play, but our 15s girls are struggling along, they’ll struggle along a bit, but one of these days our 7s girls – they’ll win the gold medal at the Olympics. Listen to “S02E02 Special Edition interview series with Barry Sweetman by Culden Kamea #TeivovoSports #TeivovoDigital #TeivovoRugby” on Spreaker.

For TeivovoSports.com I’m Culden Kamea – Mahalo, vina’a and thank you – please hit the subscribe button below if you would like to receive more Pasifika sports. And tank you all too mas for all your love and support. #TEIVOVORugbyShow #TeivovoRugby #TeivovoDigital #rugby #rugby7s #FijiRugby #rugbyunion #rugbyleague #Raka #team #rugbytraining #sports #FRU #Fiji

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