Rugby loses a great player

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Taqiri shows his jumping skills during a training session. Picture: SUPPLIED

Fiji has lost another rugby great who has left behind memories and teachings for his family, peers, community and the church to carry on through these hard times. Josaia Taqirinavatu (Taqiri), 71, died in the early hours of Tuesday.

The Nabukelevu-i-ra, Kadavu, native was part of the Fiji Rugby Union touring team to Australia in 1976.

Taqiri, who has maternal ties to the mataqali Nasevou in Lami Village grew and spent his early days in Lami.

This was where his love for rugby grew and nurtured.

He came from a big family having eight siblings.

Brother Timasi Vodreu, during an interview with this newspaper said what made Taqiri different from his peers in those days were his love for the sport and commitment during training.

“He played for the Lami Rugby Club in his early days before he went on to join the YMCA Rugby Club in 1970,” Vodreu recollects.

“From the YMCA Rugby Club he joined the Lelean Old Boys, a team the old boys had been trying to form for a number of years,” he said.

Vodreu said in those days the Police team was the champion of the Suva Rugby Club Escort Shield competition.

“Lelean rose through the ranks and won the shield from Police and held it for about six years. Taqiri was part of that team. “He broke through to the Suva Colts and later for the Fiji Colts.

“In Suva, he represented both the Suva Ambassador’s team and was a vital member of the senior Suva team.”

Vodreu remembers vividly the day the Suva team went down to Lawaqa for the Farebrother Challenge.

That match made it to the back page on one of the dailies because of a punchup which broke out during the heat of the game.

“He was in the middle of it,” Vodreu said smilingly.

In 1976, the Fiji Rugby Union team was preparing for the Australia tour.

They had asked the Suva Rugby Union team for a warm-up match.

Taqiri was part of the Suva team that played that day.

That was also the day he was selected to represent the national team.

“He didn’t play in the trials for the Fiji team, he just played in that warm-up match. Everybody at home didn’t know he was being approached for national duties. Not until he told nana (mother) that he was going to Australia with the national team.”

That was the happiest day of his life, Vodreu said as he picked the photographs scattered across the floor.

The Australian tour was a success that year. Fiji played some of the big clubs in Australia and a Test match against the Australian Wallabies.

Some of the household names that went on that tour were Veidreyaki, Samisoni Viriviri (Sr), Aminiyasi Natuiyaga (Sr), T Cavuilati, Ilaitia Tuisese, I Taoba, T Rauga, E Matalau, M Kurisaru and W Gavidi. When they came back to the country, a club in Australia had already decided to sign the young, agile, lanky and ruthless lock forward from Fiji.

Taqiri came back with the team to Fiji in 1976 and went back to Australia later that year to join the Randwick Rugby Club. He played in Australia until he retired.

“My brother is gone, but his legacy remains in each and everyone of us. His talent has multiplied and evident in his grandchildren in Fiji and Australia,” he said.

Taqiri is survived by his wife Kata Lutukivuga, 69, two daughters, eight grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.

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