History was created last weekend as the Fijiana Drua claimed the Super W title at the very first attempt, but there was little time for partying for those involved.
Less than 48 hours after they had completed a come-from-behind 32-26 grand final victory at AAMI Park to finish their debut season unbeaten and end the NSW Waratahs’ four-year reign as champions, the squad was back in training.
Australian crowds have two further opportunities to see the women in action over the next week, although it will be in a Fiji jersey rather than a Drua one that the players take to the field in Queensland.
Fiji will play the first of two momentous test matches against Japan at Bond University on Sunday and will back that up by taking on the Wallaroos at Suncorp Stadium the following Friday.
The two matches are key for the development of the national team as it prepares to make its Rugby World Cup debut in New Zealand this October.
Fiji have been drawn in Pool C alongside two of the top three teams in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, number one England and third-placed France, as well as South Africa.
The challenge facing Senirusa Seruvakula’s side when they line up against two-time Rugby World Cup winners England at Eden Park on 8 October was highlighted by the inexperience at test level of the 32-player squad selected for the matches against Japan and Australia.
Although the group has been supplemented by four overseas-based players, Asinate Serevi, daughter of World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Waisele Serevi, Anna Nasalo, Talei Wilson and Luisa Yaranamua, it contains only 11 players who have played test rugby before.
Those 11 players have won a total of 40 caps between them, with the squad’s most experienced player Rusila Tamoi having won seven of those.
By contrast, the England team selected by Simon Middleton to play France on Saturday features nine players who have won 40 or more caps, with a 10th, Lark Davies, in line to make her 40th appearance in Bayonne.
“The two test matches are a boost to their preparation for Rugby World Cup as we will be able to blend the right mixture and get to build a better combination,” Seruvakula said.
“We were back on the field from Monday and have worked out our set pieces and areas that need improvement ahead of the match against Japan.
“Test games are different to the matches we played in the Super W and we will give our best shot in trying to maintain an improved performance against the two tough opponents.”
“This is the start of something”
Following the Fijiana Drua’s exploits in Super W this season, neither Japan nor Australia, or indeed England and France for that matter, are going to take their opposition lightly.
The Fijiana Drua took Super W by storm, winning fans as well as matches as they brought their joyful, running game to the competition.
Amid the jubilant scenes that greeted the final whistle at AAMI Park last weekend, Fijiana Drua second-row Jade Coates summed up what winning the title meant to the players.
“It is more than just a game to these girls. It’s years of hard work, sacrifice,” Coates said. “This is history for us and a day we’ll never forget. It’s created a pathway for girls and women playing rugby.
“We played for past players, present, future players and our supporters. This is the start of something and we’ll only go up from here.”
Coming less than a year after the Fijiana sevens side became the country’s first female Olympic medallists when they won bronze in Tokyo, it seems the Drua’s success is already starting to have an impact on women and girls back home in Fiji.
“Their games are live on TV here in Fiji every weekend, and it’s just amazing,” World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient Vela Naucukidi told the Guardian.
“It helps us who are actually working on the ground trying to develop women’s rugby in Fiji.”
If the squad can maintain its current trajectory against Japan, Australia and beyond then it looks as though the future is very bright for the women’s game in Fiji.