Phase 2 of the Fiji programme took shape when Grant, Ben, Rachael, and baby Matthew met at Edinburgh airport with the mission of blagging an extra bag through to Nadi. This was a crucial task, as the bag contained 23kgs of gifts, balls, and rugby equipment kindly donated for this trip by Scottish Rugby. Many thanks to Scott Yardley at Scottish Rugby for his help. With a starting point of £200 for the bag, we haggled it down to £80, and then to £0 - once we achieved a concurrence with BA staff that baby Matthew did, indeed, need a bag that was 20 x his body weight!
The trip was as good as it could be, with a stopover in Seoul, and a mid-morning arrival in Nadi. We were met by fellow Penguin; all round good guy, and “Our Man” in Fiji, Richard Breen. Richard’s young daughter Saoise had also negotiated a morning off school to welcome us, and over the next week, along with Richard’s house keeper - Va, we were to form a formidable Coach Education Unit.
Richard’s influence and help in this part of the world just cannot be described in words. Safe to say that we just couldn’t have operated without him.
After getting into Fiji attire, our initial task was to recce the venue for the first IRB Level 1 at Vitonga District School in the Lautoka Region. On arrival were were met by the Headmaster and the teachers, some of whom were attending the course the next day. The welcome we received was to set the tone of the trip, and right away we knew this was going to be “something special”. The next morning we returned to the school to deliver a well-received IRB Level 1 course to an eager, welcoming, and appreciative group of 40 coaches from the school, local village and surroundings.
We also met our own “Miss Moneypenny”, Rachael Bainivalu, who was always on hand to help with all the registration and interpretation, and generally making sure everything was cool! We stayed in the Village that evening, and had the honour of staying in Master Tirani’s family home. After dinner we headed along to village training, where we took the night's practice. Grant focused on the scrum process, and Ben took the backs. The practise was completed with a line-out session under the stars. The “this is going to be special” thoughts were confirmed when a team prayer was called at the end of practice to thank the Lord for the Penguins coming to their village to take the course and coach their players. It happens rarely, but the author was lost for words!
Grant’s Fijian Level 1 course in Kava began that night; the first of many sessions in which we were joined by the Region's Head of Education, and Bill from the village. As you would imagine, stories were told, and, eventually, two very tired Penguins sloped off to rest up for the next day of coaching.
Day 2 started with a grassroots coaching session at Vitonga District School. Some of the coaches who had attended the Level 1 the previous day, came along to practice their coaching skills with the session's 40 children. The afternoon saw ourselves, our new coaching colleagues, and a couple of extra coaches, head to Andra School in Lautoka for the secondgrass roots session of the day. This school was primarily a soccer school, so with the permission of the Headmaster, we delivered a good 60 mins introduction to rugby to 50 participants.
We were able to deliver the session in small groups of players, with assistance from the newly qualified Level 1 coaches, which added to the enjoyment for all. It has to be said that the natural talent on show in just these two schools alone, caused us to contemplate the sheer quality, and quantity, of untapped potential in this wonderful country!
After session two we attended an afternoon coaches' meeting with Lautoka Region’s Head Coach, Villi Satala. I I don’t know who was more in awe! Those of a certain vintage will remember Villi as a feared, skilled, and iconic player of the 90s. It was great to see a player with Villi’s background now involved in the regional structure in Fiji. It wasn’t long before Ben, Grant and Villi were headlong into “talking the ball game”, and sharing coaching ideas, philosophies and information. Following a couple of hours rest, Ben and Grant joined Villi and his coaching team at that evening's regional session to prepare for their home game the following Saturday, against Naitasiri. We met Villi’s backroom staff, assistant coaches, and manager, and intended to observe the session. However, it was not long before all the tools were out of the bag, with Grant focusing on attack and contact, and Ben on counteracting this with his defensive work. A more intense, physical, and demanding session I have yet to see from any team I have coached.
Day 3 took us to the International School in Nadi, which kindly provided the venue for our IRB level 2 course, and during which (2 days) we enjoyed the company of some excellent coaches (27 in total). With Rachael on hand to provide her invaluable assistance, we had the fantastic experience of adding the “coaching process” and “coaching mindset” to the international class rugby knowledge in the group. With a spread of village coaches aspiring to do the best for their team or region, to ex-representatives and players, a number of whom had travelled the world in the 7s or 15s games, we hope we managed to inspire, motivate, and up-skill these men to be able to impart their obvious rugby knowledge to the next generation of Fiji internationals. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be in such company.
Saturday brought game day, and we again met up with Villi and the Lautoka guys at their Naitasri match. We spent the time on the touchline with Villi and his team, analysing the opposition, idea-sharing for half-time, and again, talking the “coaches” talk with a fellow coach. Post-game it was back to the sheds where Grant took an impromptu scrum and throwing skills session, and Ben discussed some planning and game overview ideas with Villi and his team. A Kava session was then held in the biggest Kava bowl a Scotsman has ever seen! Ben and Grant retired at the end of the evening with ideas spinning around our heads on how we could, and must try to, help potential coaches like Villi, Api, Bill, Kele, and Wise with their coaching development.
Sunday saw us travel out to the Island of Malolo under the guidance of Api Naevo and Codi. We checked into our base hotel, chucked a couple of spare beds in the room, and the band of four began Phase 2 of the mission: one IRB Level 1 course, and two school grassroots sessions. This phase brought with it the mission of how to transit four cases of Fiji Gold Long Necks and a bottle of Bounty over proof rum onto an island!! We will come to that later!
The first day on the island saw us take a boat trip with the fifth member of this coaching group, Captain Luca, who sailed us to the other side of the island and Malolo District School for our IRB Level 1. We were met by village elders who presented us to the village Chief’s advisor, who, in turn, gave us permission to hold the course in his village. We presented our gift of Kava and then moved onto setting up our outdoor classroom. We had 17 coaches attending this course, with an eclectic mix of village coaches, the village pastor, the village chief’s advisor, and other coaches from Solevo, Yaro and Castaway Clubs. Unfortunately, some coaches who wished to attend were unable to do so, due to work commitments.
We have never played rugby, coached rugby, or been to a more beautiful rugby park on the planet. With Codi and Api now in full coach mode we had a very enjoyable day coaching rugby. This was also to the delight,and surprise, of many arriving tourists, who saw two white guys and two of the biggest Fijian guys you have ever seen, coaching line-out lifting and scrum techniques yards from the Pacific Ocean. We then had dinner on the beach and a Kava session under the tutelage of Api & Codi - after all, this was their village and whatever they said went.
The surreal part of this was when the ghetto-blaster arrived, and some of the best old school country and western tracks of the past 20 years were played to the backdrop of clapping and storytelling, while the Pacific Ocean lapped at the shore, and Grant and Ben snored away peacefully (or not!).
The following morning saw us back in the Village for the penultimate grassroots session of the tour, where 25 of the best players in the school took their opportunity to show us what they could do. The level of skills and pure physicality was 40% greater in comparison to the mainland, and it was a joy to see the obvious support these players are receiving from their school and club coaches.
We waved goodbye to Malolo, moving on to Mamanuca Village. Here we were met on the beach and led through the village to the district school, which was nestledamongst the village houses, buildings, and palm trees. The best was indeed kept for last, with Grant taking the “wee ones” and Ben looking after the “big ones”. We had 40 players in total, and the final games were nothing short of superb. Players of the day were chosen, gifts for everyone handed out, photos taken, and we retired back to the Village, ready for a 4pm pick up by Luca (remember the boat captain and the 4 crates of Fiji Gold & Bounty Rum?) ...
Now 8.30pm and dusk; after phone calls, a lot of shouting into the darkness, and flashing lights in a northerly direction, Luca came chugging around the headland from the South. I’ll not go into the details. Surfice to say, Luca does not have a phone, and was eventually tracked down, from island-to-island, by the employment of umpteen different communication methods. Anyway, during this "Fiji time" we adjourned to the best Kava session venue of the trip - right on the beach, under a mango tree, and where the Kava was shared on “High Tide”. Luca arrived with the icebox, and two crates of Fiji Gold. Ben and Grant were awarded permission to lighten the boat's load with a Codi-controlled Taki session! After six bottles, we were on the boat with Luca and Api, joining the Taki, with Codi navigating and driving the boat. Picture this: moonlight; the Pacific Ocean; navigating island-by-island; trawling for fish from the back of the skiff, and taking the best part of twenty-four 750mm bottles as we went! Absolutely magical!
The next day was obviously a “rest day”, but the hospitality shown by Richard, Api, Codi, and their families, will be remembered for as long as we can remember stuff! When we arrived back on the mainland, Ben and Grant headed off for the last meeting of the trip - to meet the father and family of Fiji and Penguin legend, Si Nawavu, from the Nawaka village. To finally meet this man and his family was an honour, and what he said to us will stay with me for a very long time: “Vinaka for coming. We don’t have much, but everything we do have is in here, and he held a heavy and strong fist to his heart! I am not sure there is too much to add to that!
Grant McKelvey and Ben Fisher
HSBC Penguin International Coaching Academy
Fiji – May 2013.