Dubai Rugby Sevens: Masivesi Dakuwaqa, blind in one eye, emblematic of Fiji’s indomitable spirit
DUBAI // When Jarryd Hayne was given his shot at becoming an Olympian at the end of last season’s world series, his arrival in the Fiji sevens squad generated great fanfare.
And well it might. A superstar in one sport – rugby league – who had just come within an ace of making it in NFL, and was now making an 11th hour bid to make the Olympics. It was quite the story.
His selection for Fiji for the London Sevens in May, the final series event before Rio, entirely overshadowed the recall of another player to the ranks.
Masivesi Dakuwaqa’s profile was the polar opposite of Hayne’s. A few months earlier, Hayne had been a San Francisco 49er. At the same moment in time, Dakuwaqa was a club player in Fiji, had never been abroad, and did not even have a passport.
And yet it was Dakuwaqa, a 22-year-old forward, who made the final cut for the Games, and enjoyed the glory of gold. Not a bad achievement, considering he is almost entirely blind in his left eye.
“It was in primary school, and I was playing with a rubber band and stick, and it hit me in the eye,” Dakuwaqa says of his visual impairment. “I can only see a little bit, but not having the vision hasn’t affected me playing rugby.”
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Clearly not. He was selected for Fiji for the first time at the Las Vegas Sevens in March, meaning his application for a passport had to be fast-tracked.
Thereafter, his career was basically on that same fast track. He now has a Brazil stamp in his new passport, and is one of the pioneering rugby players to have won Olympic gold.
“It made me feel proud of myself to have made the team in front of a lot of experienced players, some great forwards,” he said.
“I was excited and proud. I didn’t feel any extra pressure just because it was the Olympics. It felt normal, like we were going to a series event. We wanted to go and have fun, and just give our best.”
Dakuwaqa will be playing his first Dubai Rugby Sevens this weekend, and he does hold a very tenuous link to the UAE – one that he himself was unaware of.
He is coached at club level by Epeli Lagiloa, who was briefly the UAE Rugby performance manager in 2013.
“I have learnt a lot from Epeli,” he said. “He taught me skills, especially focused on running lines, and how to play as a forward.”
Only six of the Fiji squad in Dubai this weekend were in Rio, and there is a new coach, too. Naca Cawanibuka is in interim charge for the first two series tournaments, before the new man, Gareth Baber, arrives from Hong Kong.
Change is not new for Fiji. They have grown used to losing personnel to lucrative moves abroad in the past.
Despite the lure of the Olympics, Cawanibuka says financial realities mean players will continue to be lost to Fiji sevens in the future, but he expects results to stay the same.
“The Olympic dream will always be there for all our players, but it will still be a challenge,” Cawanibuka said.
“There will be a money issue at some point or another. The boys have families they need to support. The challenge for us is to keep them on the island, and offer them support and welfare.
“If we can, I am sure Fiji sevens will once again deliver the results.”
As for Samoa...
Gordon Tietjens, one of the most recognisable figures in the history of the Dubai Rugby Sevens, will be at this weekend’s tournament after all.
The coach, who won five Dubai trophies during his glittering reign as New Zealand coach, was initially said to have retired after the Olympics Games in the summer.
He was subsequently appointed Samoa coach, but was reportedly set to miss the first two legs of the 2016/17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series due to the terms of his severance with New Zealand.
However, the 60-year-old coach is in Dubai, ready to start work with a Samoa side who start their Dubai campaign against England – and who are also in the same pool as his former team, New Zealand.
Fixtures and kick-off times for Friday’s matches.
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Updated: November 30, 2016 04:00 AM