Life may be very different for Kini Murimurivalu now that he has arrived into the English Premiership at Leicester following ten Top 14 seasons in France, but one ritual hasn’t changed in the slightest – practising his religious faith.

Having this month emerged from his two-week hotel quarantine after arriving in the England Midlands, he was spotted prior to his Tigers debut last Sunday week with a message to God visible on his wristband while taking a moment out on the Welford Road turf to say a prayer before the curtain was raised on his career in England.

It was ever thus. Faith has always been the reliable companion which the 31-year-old has been able to rely on to help keep him focused on the straight and narrow while making his living thousands of miles away from his home in Fiji.

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Too many stories exist of Pacific Islanders who have lost their way amid the relentless business that is rugby in Europe. Murimurivalu himself could have wavered, his career at one stage upset by frequent serious injury and mundane, lengthy layoffs.

However, Murimurivalu doggedly stayed the course, his stints at Clermont and La Rochelle ensuring he went to his third World Cup last year in Japan and he has now secured a move to Leicester which opens up a new Premiership frontier for his decade-old professional rugby adventure.

“I believe in the Lord Jesus and my faith had brought me here this far,” he explained when asked by RugbyPass on Tuesday about the importance of religion in his life. “Looking back on my career, my first big injury was my neck in 2012.

“I thought that my rugby career would be finished and then coming to La Rochelle the year after in 2013, I did my knee and had nine months off rugby. I came back and got injured again – the same knee.

“After the second surgery they were telling me I don’t know what your career will be like, how long you are going to be playing, and that was back in 2014. I was blessed with my family back at home and now my small family.

“They allowed me to believe in the Lord and that allowed me to fall back on my faith and that is what keeps us going. It’s a big testimony for me and for my career because I thought my rugby was over but it just kept me going. When you stick to the word of God, that is the thing that keeps me going every day. That is the secret for my success, who I believe in.

“Every day, I wake up in the morning and have a prayer. In the afternoon after the training when you go back home, you spend time with the kids talking about the word of God and also we have a loto, what we call in Fiji a church service, and after we have dinner we read the word of God. That is the thing that for me is my secret now.

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“Most of us in Fiji we are brought up in the Christian faith, and also the young guys that come over they have culture shock when they come to France or England. The choices they have to make, like drinking. If you want to have a good career you stick to the advice from home.

“When we are home it’s the first thing we are told by our parents or our guidance back in Fiji: it was remember God first and in everything you do, it’s God first. He will lead you in the way. That is the advice given to all the younger generation when we left Fiji whenever we left the country.

“When I first came to France that was the big culture shock. Back at home, we didn’t get paid that much so when we have money, that is when things come into your mind, ‘Oh I want this, I want that’. I was lucky that Seremaia Bai was there when I came to Clermont and (Napolioni) Nalaga, they were the ones that were giving me advice.

“Especially Bai, he helped me to save money for my family because I didn’t know about saving and all this kind of stuff. He was the one who was telling me about my rugby career and he was the one who was telling me you know you have ten or more years of professional rugby.”

Bai wasn’t the only major rugby influence to leave a mark on Murimurivalu, though. It was four years ago, speaking to the likes of Niki Goneva and other Fijians who were in England who planted the post-2015 World Cup seed that the winger should give the Premiership a spin.

It took some time for that switch to materialise but now that Murimurivalu is here he is keen not to waste a single moment – even if his debut in the league against Leicester rivals Northampton is now oddly being followed by a trip back to France for next Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final at Toulon.

“It’s always a dream to come here to England to try the Premiership,” he said. “It goes back four years ago when I was in France. I wanted to try new things and I heard from my friends who were playing in England, ‘Come over to England, it’s good over here, the rugby is good’. It was a dream to come here.

“I’ve played just one game and it’s a tough competition. I’m just enjoying it and loving it. I wanted to try new things, an adventure for me and my family. We had been in France for years and I wanted to go on a new journey with new things. That would have been going through my mind in those years, to try and new things.”

Signed in mid-July after the five Leicester contract rebels exited, Murimurivalu was shunted into quarantine for a fortnight before he was allowed link up with his new teammates. Even then, there was no time to waste as he was quickly flung in for a debut and did so well that he retained the starting jersey for the European quarter-final last weekend that was ultimately postponed due to an outbreak of coronavirus amongst the Castres squad.

“At the start, it was quite hard staying in a hotel but I adapted to that situation because back in Fiji I came from a boarding school, so I adapted. I was alone. My family was still in France. But there was a gym at the hotel so I was doing some cardio, some weights training that was given by our trainer and then I was doing some running. Those kinds of things kept me working during the quarantine.

“It was quite a frustrating thing, being alone in the hotel in a room… it didn’t come easily but if you just adapt to that kind of situation everything will be alright especially the mind… I was surprised (to play against Northampton). But those opportunities you just grab with both hands and give your best to the team.”

Murimurivalu did that and more, Leicester ending a brutal run of league results by beating Saints, and there won’t be much time to rest either when the restarted Premiership concludes next month as it will quickly begin again in November around the same time that Fiji, whom he has been capped 30 times for, take part in the new Autumn Nations Cup.

Murimurivalu has yet to hear from new Fiji boss Vern Cotter on what the current of play is regarding preparations for that one-off tournament but he is ready to get stuck in once his settling-in phase at Leicester has passed off successfully.

“The first thing I have to do now is to listen to what the coaches have been saying and their feedback. I really love it here (at Leicester) because we have been working together as a team in order to help the team win.

“It’s good for Fiji (to be included in the Nations Cup), and also for preparation for the World Cup because we haven’t got any of those opportunities. We have no more than ten Test matches a year, so this competition will be really good for the boys and preparing the team for the next World Cup.

“At the moment I haven’t heard anything from Fiji, so my focus now is on Leicester… with the travel ban and the Covid thing that is going on, they will be just selecting the players in the northern hemisphere, but hopefully next year they will be getting players over from Fiji and giving them chances.”

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