Taqele Naiyaravoro is a proud Fijian. There are those who doubt his loyalty, those who haven’t forgotten how the Yasawa-born islander flirted with Michael Cheika’s Wallabies and made himself ineligible for the country of his birth by twice being capped by Australia.
There have been swings and roundabouts since then, even a tentative plan hatched to get him to play for the Fijians at sevens level this year and exploit some sort of loophole that could have somehow seen him become available for John McKee in time for the World Cup in Japan.
That eventually became a route best left unexplored. However, the battering ram winger hasn’t relinquished all hopes that one day in the future he might yet get to wear that cherished white jersey and do his young family proud.
They are living these days in Northampton in the English midlands, Franklin’s Gardens being the latest pitstop in a circuitous playing career where Naiyaravoro has been previously employed at club level in Glasgow, Sydney and Ota.
But their island heritage remains vibrant, Naiyaravoro using a 10-day break from the Saints’ extended pre-season as an opportunity to take the family home to Fiji this week even though three of those days would be taken up by the arduous 20,000-kilometre round trip.
“It’s a day and a half (each way),” he told RugbyPass before setting out on an expedition he makes a point of taking annually to ensure home ties remain very strong. “I have got 10 days off so it’s good. I wouldn’t go if there was just five days.
“For me it’s to see my family. My brothers and my sister, my mum and dad are all still in Fiji, so it’s just going back and seeing family and getting some sun before I come back into the cold. That is the main part.
“It’s also just taking my kids over. I try and take them back to Fiji every year just so they can get back into their culture, meet their grandparents and their family. It’s just building that relationship with my kids and I want them to have a firm grasp of their Fiji heritage which is why we try and go every year.”
This latest trip, though, will surely reinforce in Naiyaravoro his desire to eventually don his country’s colours if at all possible. There was the 27-year-old this week at home in Fiji surrounded by the buzz that enveloped the country with their national team flying out to New Zealand to play a warm-up Test versus Tonga in Auckland before heading on to the World Cup in Japan.
Missing out isn’t a subject he wants to dwell on much. That ship has clearly sailed. “I’m not really disappointed. I’m positive,” he insisted. “It’s more for me to move on and say probably next time or next year if I could get another Test, another opportunity to play. But now I’m not really disappointed. They [Fiji] have got a really good squad and I think all I can do is just support them and see how they go at the World Cup.”
For Naiyaravoro it’s the third RWC he has now missed out on. In 2015, the disappointment was most acute. He had just made his Australian debut in a September smashing of the United States in Chicago only to be told by Cheika he was the odd man out and wouldn’t be travelling on to London for the tournament that saw the Wallabies go all the way to the final.
“Yeah, it’s a bit of a deja vu thing,” he said, attaching his 2019 misfortune to what occurred four years ago with Australia, a blow that followed on from him missing the 2013 League World Cup with Fiji due to injury.
“It was just the wrong time for me the last time at that World Cup. I had actually joined the code of rugby union from rugby league, so I didn’t really know the importance of the World Cup and all that is happening… but like I said, the World Cup isn’t a really big issue for me.
“I have the club season here at Northampton that I can do well in. For me, the World Cup is the pinnacle of rugby and probably by the next one I will be more hopeful of going.”
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If there was a silver lining to that England 2015 knock-back, it was that he squirrelled himself away to Japan to further his union education. His stint with the Panasonic Wild Knights is something still very vivid with the rugby world now set to congregate in the Far East for a World Cup of much significance.
“It was a highlight of my career, getting to spend time over in Japan. I really loved it and maybe in the future, in my retirement, I will go back. It’s such a beautiful place, very respectable culture, a lot of good people and a competition that is tough. It is hard to catch those Japanese players.
“The World Cup? People will really enjoy it. It’s a nice place, good food, respectable people and it’s just a lot of experiences which is all good. Japan did really well at the last one, beating South Africa, and in the prep towards the World Cup now they have done some really big upsets in the Pacific Nations Cup.
— NSW Waratahs (@NSWWaratahs) August 26, 2014
“By the looks of it, they are going to have a very good campaign. They are in a tough pool, but having the World Cup in Japan will boost up the club competition. Hopefully, it will get more players and the competition will be a lot better than it is. I can’t wait to see what happens after the World Cup – it will open up many doors.”
It was February 2018 when it was announced that Northampton would be Naiyaravoro’s latest port of call and he arrived having broken Israel Folau’s single-season try-scoring record with the Waratahs in Super Rugby. That potency has since continued, his seven tries in 20 outings having an influence in Saints’ unexpected run to the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals, and he is targeting an even greater impact in 2019/20.
“I settled in pretty well, quicker than I thought. A lot of the boys helped me. Northampton is such a good town. A lot of people have helped us settle in and it’s easy to get around. I’m enjoying every minute. The kids are in school and enjoying it, and it’s close to London. It’s pretty central to everything we have wanted as a family.
• Very big
• Very fast
• Very scary
You don't see many people swatting Billy V away ? pic.twitter.com/Xp80DR2ek4
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 16, 2018
“Last year I came in and pretty much started straight into the season but now I’m lucky enough to actually do a pre-season with the boys and prepare with them. It’s a big season as well after finishing off in the top four. Our goal now is to do better than what we did last season.”
The reason they did so well? “It was just the players we have here and the game plan Chris (Boyd) put in, the direction that he put in for the team pretty much suited the players that we have here. They like to run the ball and it just worked well.
“This pre-season we have been working really hard and looking to do what we did last year a lot better. That is what drove us last year, taking on a new game plan and just making it work.”
WATCH: Part one of Operation Jaypan, the two-part RugbyPass documentary on what the fans can expect to experience at the World Cup in Japan
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