The small Fijian village of Naqali was jumping over the weekend with family and friends of back-rower Isi Naisarani gathering to watch his Wallabies debut.
While the Australians fell 35-17 to South Africa in their Rugby Championship clash in Johannesburg, there was still plenty to celebrate with Naisarani’s appearance five years in the making.
Growing up idolising the likes of Fijian powerhouse Rupeni Caucaunibuca and former Wallabies George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, the 24-year-old moved to Australia in 2014 with the aim of playing for his adopted country.
But a visa issue saw his three-year residency qualification restarted in 2016, which meant he only qualified for selection in April this year.
Naisarani, who was Melbourne’s players’ player this Super Rugby season, was excited the big moment had finally arrived.
And so were the people of Naqali, which is about 30 minutes inland from the capital Suva.
“It’s unreal to make my Test debut. I feel humble. I’ve been waiting for so long to get this opportunity. It’s a blessing for me,” Naisarani said.
“I’ve been getting heaps of messages, texts from back home.
“All my family, friends, my village stayed up to watch as the kick-off was 3am back home.
“They are definitely proud of me. When I came to Australia my dream was to play for the Wallabies, so to now get this opportunity is a blessing.”
While Australia’s performance wasn’t perfect, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said No.8 Naisarani did everything expected of him against the burly Boks, clocking up seven runs including two tackle-busts.
“I thought Naisarani had an excellent debut, he was involved in the game,” Cheika said after the match.
“He didn’t have a very high error count and he was present all the time.
“He made some crucial catches and he defended with physicality.”
Watch – Michael Cheika fronts media in Brisbane:
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