Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
We may be in the midst of a busy week in the Parliament back in Suva, but that wasn’t going to stop me from being here to bid a personal farewell to this team as you depart for Japan and prepare to represent our country at the Rugby World Cup.
I – alongside every Fijian – have watched this team’s journey over the past several months with growing pride and optimism. I’ve seen you build a camaraderie on the field and find a pace and rhythm that suits your skills. I’ve admired your strengthening discipline on both sides of the ball. And I’ve sat on the edge of my seat as your tenacity has led you to seize victories from the jaws of defeat.
But everything you’ve achieved up to now has only been preparation for the task you have ahead. The competition you face in Japan will be at another level entirely. This isn’t the Pasifika Challenge or the Pacific Nations Cup.
These aren’t test matches. You will be competing on one of the grandest stages in sport against the best of the best in world rugby. There will be no easy wins. There will be no room for careless errors or sloppy play. And there will be no glory unless you reach out and take it for yourselves.
The pressure will be on from the moment you take the field in your first match against a talented Wallabies side. Your victory this weekend against Tonga was hard-fought and well-earned, but we all know there were mistakes in that game. You can’t afford those errors against Australia.
They will take every inch of ground you give them. But when you play at your best, there is no team – no matter the size of their country or the resources behind them –that you cannot defeat. And that is what victory in the World Cup will demand: Your absolute best play at all times.
There will be plenty of dramatic headlines, rankings and analysis from international media in the lead-up to Japan.
Some will place great expectations on your shoulders and others will downplay your successes. Don’t pay any of them any mind. You are going to Japan with one objective: to give every ounce of effort in pursuit of the Web Ellis Cup trophy. You’ll only achieve that singular goal by standing together as one team with one mission. You know what you’re capable of – and you know the Fijian people stand behind you 100 per cent. We believe in you. Eyes will be glued to televisions from Suva to Savusavu watching you compete.
Our expectations are the only expectations that matter, and we expect you to play hard.
We expect you to give your all. We expect you to play together as a team. And we expect to see sportsmanship of the highest degree on and off the field.
The history of Fijian rugby is one of the greatest narratives in the sporting world. Our success in this sport relative to the size of our nation is rivalled by few other countries in few other athletic endeavours. You all represent the next chapter of that incredible story. When you don your jerseys and take the field, you take on a legacy of sporting excellence that stretches back generations. Our success has always been defined by our passion for this beautiful game and by the brotherhood our ruggers have forged with one another on the field of play. You must prove yourselves worthy of that inheritance by performing to your highest potential and by sticking to the highest values of Fijian sportsmanship: camaraderie, respect and humility.
In the days ahead, put your trust in your coaches and in each other to prepare yourselves for this historic opportunity. On behalf of every Fijian, I wish you well. I’d say good luck – but we know luck has nothing to do with your success. It has everything to do with you, your effort, your preparation, and your passion for this game.
I’ll be departing for Japan myself later this month. I plan to see each of you at the Sapporo Dome ahead of your match against the Aussies.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.