LONDON – Fiji lived up to their billing as the great entertainers of world rugby, but this time off the field as their World Cup squad serenaded delighted tourists with a hymn outside one of Britain’s most historic palaces on Thursday.
The ever-popular Pacific visitors became the first team at RWC 2015 to enjoy their official welcome ceremony amid the splendour of Hampton Court Palace,.
However, the England team might not have felt it was such sweet music when Fiji’s captain Akapusi Qera declared: “We are so blessed to be here but we are here not to make up the numbers, we are here to perform.”
The setting could not have been more delightful, nor the September weather kinder as the former England great Bill Beaumont, now chairman of the Rugby Football Union, offered the official welcome speech on behalf of the hosts, inviting coach John McKee’s ‘Flying Fijians’ to the “biggest World Cup ever”.
After collecting their official tournament caps and participation medals, being serenaded in the Garden Room delightfully by a school choir from Essex and clapping along to a cheery three-piece band playing pop covers, the Fijians deigned to offer their own unique form of entertainment.
Gathering outside the front of the historic royal palace, tourists were astonished when this group of green-trousered giants in tassled caps began a beautiful rendition of a traditional Fijian hymn which captain Qera said was called “My Prayer”.
The team then obliged cheerfully for pictures with tourists, their massive star winger Nemani Nadolo, at 6ft 5in and 20 and a half stone, being a particular favourite for selfies.
The Crusaders rocket reckoned the ceremony had been “very emotional”, saying that when he heard the Thurstable School youngsters’ magnificent rendition of “World in Union”, it took his mind back to when he was a kid listening to that song as the World Cup theme.
“And when they showed those films in the ceremony of previous World Cups, including some of the great Fijian performances at those, the excitement really kicked in. We’re very much looking forward to it all now.”
The Fijians kick off the entire tournament against the hosts England on 18 September and Nadolo, like his captain Qera, is adamant that if they find their A game, they can still emerge from the toughest pool in the competition even though England, Wales and Australia are obvious favourites ahead of them.
“Good. We love that, that we’re sort of the forgotten side,” said Nadolo. “We go into the competition with nothing to lose; those guys (Australia, England and Wales) go in with everything to lose.
“We’re really excited. We’ve done everything we possibly could to be here and hopefully we can put some smiles on people’s faces and have fun. Plain and simple, we didn’t come here to lose. We’ve worked really hard as a side. Definitely looking forward to it. We can shock the world.”
- World Rugby