x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Drauniniu and his No 1 fan

England's eagerness to recruit Fijians into their sevens set-up has not stopped at the playing staff - even supporters are switching allegiance.

DUBAI // England's eagerness to recruit Fijians into their sevens set-up has not stopped at the playing staff - even supporters are switching allegiance. Isoa Damudamu, a private in the British Army, has established himself as one of the game's best forwards in the white of England, rather than that of his native Fiji. Last November, England repeated the trick by adding to their ranks another of his compatriots, the speedy winger Josh Drauniniu.

When he made his debut in Dubai at the end of last year, England instantly gained a one-woman cheer squad in the South Pacific. Drauniniu, who serves in the Royal Navy, had not told his mother, Arieta, about his call up for England, but knew she would be watching on the TV back at home. Drauniniu, 23, did not play for his adopted country again until this weekend's World Cup Sevens, due to commitments for his club, Exeter Chiefs.

He said: "I rang her up after the tournament [in which he starred as England finished runners-up to South Africa] and she was jumping around and going mental." Happy as she was with her son's success, Arieta was less impressed by his communication skills. "I have been given a few hard times for not telling anyone before," he added. "The funny thing was, she was Fiji's number one fan, and she didn't care about anyone else. As soon as she saw me playing for England, she changed, completely."

No matter what way she looked at the events at the World Cup, Arieta was to be disappointed. Fiji ceded the Melrose Cup with a poor quarter-final display against Kenya, who are the emerging force of rugby's short form. Drauniniu, meanwhile, made an impact after coming on as a late substitute against Samoa in the last eight, but England eventually went down in sudden-death extra-time. "We have let ourselves down," said the England playmaker, Ben Gollings.

"We know deep down we should have won, but we have to make sure that when we come out next time we are ready to go and don't make the same mistakes again." pradley@thenational.ae