Southland's Fijian trio warming to the south
On a blustery, icy-cold day at the Les George Oval, near Invercargill, it can be uncomfortable for the Stags' Fijian trio as they go about enhancing their rugby skills.
The single-digit temperatures are a far cry from the 30-degree heat and 80-odd per cent humidity they were used to when playing and training in their homeland.
It has been jokingly suggested that Les George Oval at its worst is like sending a Southland rugby player to Scott Base for a training session, when coming up with a comparison to how the Fijian boys feel.
"It's real cold; it's winter all year round," loose forward Nauli Dawai said this week.
However, while Talemaitoga Tuapati, Nemia Kenatale and Dawai all concede they have struggled to adjust to the climate, they are more than happy with where they are at the moment.
They are living the rugby dream through the opportunity to play in New Zealand's top-level domestic competition and, as a result, they say they have some pretty chuffed family members and friends back in their respective Fijian villages.
"They are really proud of us," Kenatale said.
The trio have arrived in Southland at different times during the past five years, all for the same reason - rugby.
Hooker Tuapati was the first to make the move to New Zealand. He originally headed to Dunedin, where he played for the Otago Colts, before being convinced by former Stags loose forward Noa Soqeta to make the move to Southland in 2007.
He started with the Pirates-Old Boys club before spending time at Midlands and Woodlands and now has returned to play for Pirates-Old Boys once again.
The 28-year-old now has a partner in Invercargill, has started a family and said Southland was now home.
As well as the Stags call-up, during Tuapati's time in the province he has been selected for the Fijian national team and made his test debut in 2010 against Australia in Canberra.
Loose forward Dawai was the next of the Fijian contingent to arrive in Southland, when the Midlands rugby club recruited him from Fiji in 2011 through a player agent.
He originally was used as a hooker but Stags coach David Henderson saw his potential elsewhere and decided to select him in the Stags 2013 squad as a loose forward.
Halfback Kenatale arrived in Southland last year, probably with a bigger reputation than Tuapati and Dawai when they first touched down.
Kenatale had already played for Fiji and was signed to Rugby Southland before he had started playing club rugby in the province.
The three knew each other well from their playing days back in Fiji and said to be able to share the experience of playing provincial rugby in New Zealand with fellow countrymen made it that bit more special.
The trio said they do have a wish they would love to see come true during their time in Southland.
That wish: "We would like to all get a start in the same game," Tuapati said.
It's a long shot, given none of them has yet started a game in the four Stags outings this season, although they have all been part of the bench in every game.
Kenatale and Tuapati are probably the most likely to be included in the run-on 15 in the coming weeks, with the Stags having three games in a 10-day period.
Getting first-choice hooker David Hall and first-choice halfback Tayler Adams to start in all three would be a big ask.
The Southland Times