Akapusi Qera had a year left on his Agen contract, when he and the French club decided to part ways last June. He played just fourteen Top 14 games, seven of which were from the bench. He’s 34-years-old now and was superseded by young, up-and-coming backrows at Agen.
He subsequently struggled to find a new club as he sought to continue representing Fiji and target a fourth World Cup. Now he has been forced to drop down to the second tier of English rugby to get a game, to Hartpury RFC, a club which is second-from-bottom in the Green King IPA Championship table, with just two wins all season, who generate an average gate of less than 1,000 people at the Gillman’s Ground.
He’s been training with the club for a number of weeks, one of his major stumbling blocks to getting back on the pitch sooner was locking down the requisite visas, an issue which was finally resolved this week so he can line up in the Championship Cup fixture against Bedford Blues on Saturday.
His new team only came into existence in 2004. Their aim is predominantly to nurture players who are studying at Hartpury College. It has been somewhat of a feeder club for Gloucester Rugby over the years – the Gallagher Premiership club train adjacent to Hartpury RFC’s main pitch – alumni include Ross Moriarty, Charlie Sharples, Billy Burns and Lewis Ludlow. Other players who studied at Hartpury include Leicester duo Jonny May and Ellis Genge, Exeter Chiefs winger Alex Cuthbert and Wasps scrum half Dan Robson.
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Those links between Gloucester and Hartpury proved to be invaluable for Qera when he sought pastures new. He certainly has iconic status in the West Country, having been a Premiership Player of the Year nominee in 2007/08, while Cherry and Whites fans voted him as Gloucester’s Player of the Season in 2009-10.
But those heady days are now gone, he may have been labelled “the biggest signing in the relatively short history of Hartpury RFC”, but he’s not the player he once was, who also graced other top clubs such as Toulouse and Montpellier. John McKee understandably left him out of Fiji’s squad for the November internationals – Japan 2019 never looked as far away for clubless Qera. That was emphasised as the new breed claimed the historic scalp of France in Paris.
Playing in the second tier in England is not necessarily a barrier to getting into international reckoning, as illustrated by Cornish Pirates hooker Sam Matavesi, London Irish prop Manasa Saulo and Doncaster’s Henry Seniloli who played a prominent roles during the Autumn.
There is no doubt Qera would bring experience – three World Cup’s, the last as captain, and ball-carrying ability, but he’ll be 35 by the time Fiji line up for their World Cup opener against Australia in Sapporo next September. Qera is certainly not out of the picture, he featured in the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup last June, captaining the side.
But Fiji aren’t exactly short of backrows, such as the imposing 6 foot 5.5 inch 18-stone wrecking ball Viliame Mata, a Sevens Gold medallist currently holding the 8 jersey. 25-year-old Clermont flanker Peceli Yato is a Top 14 winner, not to mention Newcastle’s Nemani Nagusa and Dominiko Waqaniburotu, who both have plenty of miles on the clock. Domestically they have the likes of Fijian Drua captain Mosese Voka, whose leadership skills are illustrated by the fact he’s also led the Fiji Warriors, or Albert Tuisue, who used to work for the Fijian police – and is another on the Fijian Drua books.
Write off Qera at your peril, but he has his work cut out.
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