May 29, 2017 Last Updated 1:08 PM, May 23, 2017

Saint of Fiji 7s rugby

Ben Ryan, the legacy

THE Free Dictionary defines a saint a person of great benevolence and virtue; a founder or patron of a movement. Many people would identify this with Englishman Ben Ryan who moved to Fiji in 2013 with wife Natalie to take up the coaching role for the men’s national sevens team.

His love of rugby and the potential he saw in Fijian players to be world and Olympic beaters overshadowed per - sonal hardships he encountered with his employer when he first arrived. This great act of benevolence, when pitched against the results he produced, made him the most loved and adored person for all Fijians the world over. His right hand man, strength and conditioning coach Nacanieli Cawani - buka describes Ryan a “master-coach” whose simple leadership style and strong motivational skills worked well for the players.

“A strong attribute I saw in him was how to build self-confidence in the players to believe in themselves that they were the best in the world,” Cawanibuka said. “To get the best out of our Fijian players you need to be able to connect with them on a personal level and collectively as a team and Ben did that very well”.

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No pain, no gain for Hayne

Hard yards to go ahead of Rio for Fijian code hopper

THE barrage of negative publicity when Jarryd Hayne chose to join the Fiji team for the London leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series was not a surprise. Among the most venomous critics of Australian sportspeople are their media and sportspeople themselves. The negative publicity started immediately with claims that Hayne would not qualify because of a limited standdown window, the need for special drug tests, and his inability to transition to a new code.

Perhaps the most cruel blow of all was that Hayne did not qualify for the Fijian side because he was an Australian. Hayne’s father, Manoa Thompson, moved to Australia aged 11 and played for South Sydney (Rabbitohs) and Auckland (Warriors) at various stages of what is now the National Rugby League. Manoa was adopted by Ana Waqanibaravi Thompson, sister to his birth mother, Elenoa Tokalautawa, who died when he was young.

The hard-hitting centre who represented Fiji in 1996 told the Daily Telegraph his son would prove critics wrong. “Keep bagging my boy and you will have egg on your face,” he said.

“They wrote Jarryd off when he went to the NFL. And he made it. They wrote him after he was (NRL) rookie of the year as well.

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Copy of CHASING THE BIG DREAM

PACIFIC ISLAND PLAYERS underpaid and overworked

PHYSICALLY powerful young men have become Polynesia’s highest profile export. In a bittersweet trade, youngsters who dreamed of playing professional American football risk neurological damage, while international rugby prospects are blighted by allegations of exploitation.

Figures from the International Rugby Players’ Association show that 630 of the world’s roughly 4,000 registered professional rugby union players are Pacific Islanders - a surprisingly high percentage given that only 3.4 million people live in Polynesia, the Pacific region between Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand. The numbers only change a little in deciding whether Fiji is in Polynesia or not – or where the division exists inside Fiji. Srikingly, American Samoa, home to just 55,000 people, provides 4% of the players in the U.S. National Football League.

“In just a few decades, the sons of Samoa and Tonga, mostly young men who came of age in the States, have quietly become the most disproportionately over-represented demographic in college and professional football,” said Rob Ruck, a historian of sport at the University of Pittsburgh. His upcoming book on gridiron and the Pacific holds facts and emotion about the unusual arrangement.

He quoted Robert Louis Stevenson calling Samoans “god’s best, at least, god’s sweetest works.” Added Ruck: “The more I know about these men and their back stories, the more I realize why Stevenson fell in love with Polynesians and their culture.” Ruck said that Polynesians brought a warrior self-image and an attitude by Michael Field of “no-fear” to the sports they played. Both qualities made them sought after players, but vulnerable to head injuries.

.....to read more buy your personal copy at

CHASING THE BIG DREAM

PACIFIC ISLAND PLAYERS underpaid and overworked

PHYSICALLY powerful young men have become Polynesia’s highest profile export. In a bittersweet trade, youngsters who dreamed of playing professional American football risk neurological damage, while international rugby prospects are blighted by allegations of exploitation.

Figures from the International Rugby Players’ Association show that 630 of the world’s roughly 4,000 registered professional rugby union players are Pacific Islanders - a surprisingly high percentage given that only 3.4 million people live in Polynesia, the Pacific region between Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand. The numbers only change a little in deciding whether Fiji is in Polynesia or not – or where the division exists inside Fiji. Srikingly, American Samoa, home to just 55,000 people, provides 4% of the players in the U.S. National Football League.

“In just a few decades, the sons of Samoa and Tonga, mostly young men who came of age in the States, have quietly become the most disproportionately over-represented demographic in college and professional football,” said Rob Ruck, a historian of sport at the University of Pittsburgh. His upcoming book on gridiron and the Pacific holds facts and emotion about the unusual arrangement.

He quoted Robert Louis Stevenson calling Samoans “god’s best, at least, god’s sweetest works.” Added Ruck: “The more I know about these men and their back stories, the more I realize why Stevenson fell in love with Polynesians and their culture.” Ruck said that Polynesians brought a warrior self-image and an attitude by Michael Field of “no-fear” to the sports they played. Both qualities made them sought after players, but vulnerable to head injuries.

.....to read more buy your personal copy at

Tonga’s race against time

Political row at centre of Pacific Games delay

WITH less than three years to the Pacific Games 2019, Tonga is 18 months late in its preparations. This is despite Papua New Guinea’s pledge of $USD35 million – half of what is needed for the four-yearly event. With construction of venues yet to begin and accommodation for teams in short supply, petty politics has emerged as the newest threat to the Pacific Games. On top of that the International Olympics Committee has suspended funding to its Tongan affiliate over constitutional anomalies.

If these are not addressed, the Tonga Association of Sports and National Olympics Committee could lose its accreditation and be technically unable to host and administer the games. Oceania National Olympics Committee President, Dr Robin Mitchell has visited Tonga regularly in an attempt to keep the relationship open and the possibility of the 2019 Games alive.

Tongan Aotearoa Amateur Sports Association chairman, Wili Ilolahia, has met Games Organising Committee head, Lord Feleti Sevele, Prime Minister ‘Akilis Pohiva and senior officials in an effort to salvage the regional sports spectacle. “Tongan athletes living in New Zealand are concerned by what appears to be delays in preparations and we wanted to see whether we could help,” Ilolahia told ABC News. “We send a lot of money back home through remittances.

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