Waisale Serevi meets old friend and recalls birth of Fiji sevens’ revolutionary six-man defence

Nazvi Careem

Waisale Serevi met a old friend at Seattle Airport, prompting a flood of memories that had the Fijian legend recalling the birth of a revolutionary sevens formation that would change the way the game was played around the world.

The six-man defence system was the creation of iconic Fijian coach, the late Ratu Kitione Vesikula, who coached the Nabua team and was also in charge of the Fiji squad for the Hong Kong Sevens in the early 90s.

Vesikula was forced to resort to such an unconventional playing style because of the antics of Filipe Tawayaga – the man Serevi met at the airport and who played for Nabua’s fierce rivals Prisons in Fiji’s domestic competitions 30 years ago.

Tawayaga and rampaging partner Jo Savou had combined to help Prison dominate Nabua. Serevi said that after the defeats, Vesikula took Serevi to one side and told him about his new plan.

“I want to share how all the teams in the world have followed Fiji’s pattern of using 6 man defence,” Serevi wrote. “A tribute to the late Rt Kitione Vesikula, who decided after we lost to Prisons a couple of games, using the kick and chase technique by two of their super stars Filipe Tawayaga and Jo Savou.

“We went back to Nabua that was the late 80’s/90’s and the late Tu Kiti said: ‘Wai, we have a new pattern to counter Prison, you have to drop back and will work hard on our 6 man defence’.

“That’s where it started and have made the rugby 7s team in world follow our pattern and we should be proud of what we in Fiji created. Filipe was an awesome player, very fit, fast, had the vision and reads the game well.”

The system often saw Serevi receive the ball deep behind or among his defence before he danced his way passed the opposition to touch down on the other side, or provide a telling pass for one of his teammates.

Indeed, the playing style helped Fiji dominate the Hong Kong Sevens in the early 90s, including one memorable final against New Zealand when the Hong Kong Stadium pitch was flooded and the Fijians seemingly skipped over the mud while the Kiwis found themselves bogged down.

Serevi also mentioned a number of other Prisons players, praising Tawayaga for helping him to improve his own game. Serevi, who won two World Cup titles with Fiji and a host of Hong Kong Sevens titles, is considered the best sevens player who ever lived.

He now resides in Seattle, Washington while also coaching the Russian sevens team.

“Prison those years had Gabriel Naborisi, Jim Wainiqolo, Jone Roqica, Jo Savou, Filipe Tawayaga, Lemeki Koroi Eparama Wakaniyaro, that was a very good team. I can say that Filipe Tawayaga, was the one player those early years have put pressure on me to work hard to become the player l was those early years.”

Photo: Waisale Serevi with Filipe Tawayaga at Seattle Airport

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