Some commentators have said that Fiji “have come from nowhere” to not only storm into the Women’s World Sevens Series but at the time of writing this
they sit above nations with full time teams and who have been in contention at the top for years. This hasn’t just happened though, having observed
them and chatted with them over time and borne out by my interviews with Ana Maria Roqica, captain of the Fijian women’s Rugby 7’s team, this has
been coming for a long time.
My first rugby 7’s experience was many; many years ago when I watched the Fijian men’s team warm up in a car park ahead a tournament. What struck me
aside from their amazing pace, ball handling and expansive running game was their passion and sheer love for what they were doing and from that
moment I was a fan. Since then Fiji have firmly planted themselves in the Rugby 7’s circuit. Fast forward and Fiji’s first success with the women’s
side saw them win the 2011 Pacific Cup and they have continued to steadily build to where they are today, sitting at the top table of international
As I talk with Ana Maria it strikes me how, despite her softly spoken manner and quiet voice there is a strength and emotion that many louder and more
extrovert athletes can never convey. She talks with a depth of feeling that is incredible to listen to. “Rugby is in our blood” Ana Maria says
in a way I am unable to explain other than to say it puts the hair on the back of your neck up. She doesn’t mean they watch it on the TV and everyone
enjoys it, she means it is coursing through their veins. This is about more than playing Rugby; it’s about representing your family and your nation.
It is about taking the story of the islands and bringing it to the world so they can hear about what means so much to you and all the people of
Ana Maria talks about the blend of girls playing for the national team and how for many of them it is the first time anyone in their family has represented
Fiji. “Their families back home are very happy about it and they talk always about it” Ana Maria says of these girls. As she explains more it is
clear that this is about heritage, giving of yourself for Fiji and that those that are chosen to do this have received the highest honour. These
players are joining a select group of ancestors that have done the same down the years. To join them writes you into the same story as them and
nothing can compare with this. For those like Ana Maria whose fathers, uncles, aunts and mothers have had this honour it is about the baton being
handed to the next generation to hold lightly until they again past it on, as she says “we want to follow in their footsteps”.
We talk about Ana Maria’s captaincy and what is interesting is that in all we discuss, it is very clear that for her it is all about serving the team.
There are no grand designs or flowery speeches about leadership just a very clear and deep sense of serving for the better of the team. As Ana
Maria explained “I need to lead my team and show them respect and good leadership. I believe in the girls”. She continues to chat about how connected
all the girls feel with each other, borne out of mutual respect and in the knowledge that from the management down, everyone on the team believes
Word class teams aren’t normally built like the Fijiana’s have been. Firstly they only have one week prior to an international tournament to train
together before they jet off to compete, the rest of the time they are working full time or students. There are only seven clubs on the islands
and what’s more amazing is as Ana Maria explains “we have to play 7’s as we don’t even have enough players to play traditional 15’s Rugby”. The
seven clubs are so small they can only field a 7’s teams and so to come from such a small pool of talent and deliver such a big team is a huge
feat for the management team and speaks volumes of the commitment from the individuals. The final piece of this puzzle that is critical to how
the team works and why they are having the success they do is attitude. The attitude of the team is best explained by my experience at the airport
where I bumped into them again after a tournament we had all been at. My flight was delayed and I mentioned this saying it would now be early evening
before I was home and I asked them how their flights worked and what connections they had to make. It would take them 3 days to get home due to
lay overs and multiple stops. There are routes that would only take a day but there just isn’t the money to pay for those flights. They would all
rather play and represent Fiji than not, even if it means taking so much longer to get home than any other team. For each member of that team it
was about what needed to be done to get home, not a word of complaining or a sense of entitlement, why should there be they said? They are Fijiana
and that is their attitude through and through. It is this view that unites them as a team and allows them to deliver the sort of results they
do. They may be limited with the resources they have, but most importantly they work with what they have and make the very most of it.
There is a quiet and determined resolve from Ana Maria and the Fijiana team as they carry the weight of their forefathers with them around the world,
playing the game they love and representing the country and people who have made them who they are. I can’t wait to see where they will be in another
generation but until then I will enjoy watching them play Rugby and appreciate the humility and grace with which they conduct themselves.