From Fiji to Kelston

JULIAN RAETHEL
Last updated 08:14 29/11/2013
Jone Naikabula
HANDS OFF: Jone Naikabula is looking to help Kelston win their fourth straight Condor Sevens title.

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Rugby hopeful Jone Naikabula didn't know what to expect when he stepped off the plane at Auckland Airport for the first time

As an 18-year-old the Fijian had never been to New Zealand before.

But a determination to kick-start his rugby career brought him to the gates of Kelston Boys High School.

"The cultural difference was very scary at first and my English was 50:50 when I first arrived," Jone says.

"But there are a lot of Fijian boys here at Kelston so it made it easier."

A year on and Jone is suiting up for his Kelston side on Sunday for the last time, looking to make it four titles in a row at the national Condor Sevens tournament.

He says he'll miss his "brothers" as he heads off to take up a four-year university scholarship in Osaka, Japan.

Jone has come a long way since leaving his small Fijian village in Nadroga with its population of just 200 people. Back home he spent his spare time fixing trucks, helping the community and playing rugby.

Jone showed a lot of promise when he played so his village pulled together to fund his first year of schooling at Kelston.

He'd grown up idolising former All Black captain Tana Umaga.

"I liked the way he would break through the defensive line," Jone says.

"He was a centre like me and I wanted to play just like him."

He got the chance to meet Mr Umaga when his Auckland Fijian team travelled to Malaysia.

Jone impressed so much on and off the rugby field that Kelston has funded his schooling this year.

His final chance to impress will come on Sunday when 15 of the best male high school teams join Kelston on their home ground.

It's also captain Nathaniel Apa's last game before picking up a scholarship with Canterbury rugby.

He says Kelston have dominated the tournament because they know they are the fittest team out there.

"No words can describe our fitness training. You keep going until the last person drops," Nathaniel says. "Sevens tends to have less structure than rugby union or league. If you see an opportunity you've just got to go for it and back yourself."

The competition also features the girls open and under-15 grades.

This is the first appearance for the Avondale College girls side and it could be a tricky introduction.

Captain Anastasia Sekene says it's difficult with school exams.

"We've only just started our training this week. But we're all really good friends in the team and we want to at least make the top four," she says.

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The Condor Sevens tournament kicks off Sunday from 1pm.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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