Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
You are here: Home » Looking back on a great day for Fiji Rugby
23 October 2014
Finding an old photograph of Fiji's national rugby team coming out to play Phil Bennett's 1977 Lions in Suva has brought back many memories of being at the ground that day on August 16 1977. [Click on 'Favourite Photos' on this page] Myself and Nigel Starmer-Smith of the BBC were the only broadcasters there that day. We were positioned high up on the most rickety scaffolding you ever saw. We were both frightened a number of times when it swayed noticably when the wind gusts blew in off the nearby sea.
[One other point about the broadcasts I can recall is that we could hear from our high tower position the raised and excitable voice below of the local radio-man Graham Eden. Our producer Fred Szydlik remarked memorably that 'the Fiji people didn't need a transmitter to hear Graham's call; there's no doubt he could be heard miles away!' Graham has become a good friend over the years. We still see each other regularly on the road and remind ourselves of that great day.]
For a complete ego trip; here is what I wrote about the Fiji v British Isles game in my book of that tour; the un-memorably named - 'Lions '77' The book recorded a tough tour conducted by the Lions in mostly wet and muddy conditions with the Lions growing increasingly sad as their hopes of beating the Tane Norton-led All Blacks diminished by the week.
One place the 1977 Lions did really enjoy was Fiji. The relief of getting out of New Zealand, plus the warmth and welcome of the Fijian people (and of course the sunshine) convinced the team that this was the most enjoyable stop of the tour. 'This is the life,' said Charlie Faulkner relaxing beside the hotel pool, 'next time the Lions come down under they should play 26 games in Fiji and one in New Zealand!' That was said in Faulkner's nicest manner, for he was one who was reluctant to head home, his three weeks on tour (as a replacement) clearing giving him a taste for more.
There was a good deal of light-hearted banter as to who would play the game against Fiji. 'It'll be the first fifteen names out of the hat,' coach John Dawes joked at one point, but in the end he bowed to injury worries and the strength of the Fiji team and released a team which included eight of his fourth test team which had lost so narrowly to New Zealand only four days earlier in Auckland.
The local hospitality was something else and in the Lions state of relieved euphoria, having rid themselves of all New Zealanders (except me I suppose; I was the only Kiwi reporter there) they settled down to relaxing and some big public drinking sessions. 'We lost a day here somewhere,' said manager George Burrell to the aftermatch crowd. He was not referring to crossing the dateline or losing his calendar.
Sixteen members of the team went out one night, including some British pressmen, and ran up a bill of $700 [Note; I would guess about $2500nz in today's money]. 'The food was nice,' Irishman Moss Keane recalled the next day, 'ah but the wine was terrific,' and he rolled his eyes back into his head in satisfied reverie.
When the party returned to the hotel, Moss was ceremonially thrown into the swimming pool, clothes and all. 'And as I can't swim,' he said,' I got into immediate difficulties.' But with pulling and boisterous late night teamwork he was hauled out and the festivities raged on. This happened on the Monday night, only 16 hours before the team was to play the might of Fijian rugby, in rampant and hungry mood, at Suva's Buckhurst Park.
The Lions attitude and devotion to winning in Fiji was not all it might have been. Not that it mattered. The next afternoon when Fiji beat 'The Famous Lions,' as they were billed, by 25-21, it was one of the most exciting and enthralling sporting occasions I have witnessed. For a start there was the crowd: all 20,000 of them drummed into a ferment of excitement, because Fiji who had beaten Tonga in a recent three-test series, had a great chance of winning.
It was a also truly colourful sight. The ground is back-dropped by waving coconut palms and the Pacific Ocean; and the playing pitch all year round is as hard as a rock.
Fiji ran the ball at every opportunity and deserved their win. They scored 5 tries (worth 4 points then), some of them thrilling and all containing excellent authority in their execution.
To their credit the Lions contributed fully to the spectacle, not for any great running moves - they were more content to kick for position than spin the ball, but for the way they contributed to the spirit of the occasion.
In the scoring the Lions drew up to 21-all but then Vuato Narisia, the flanker, took a pass from his captain, Pio Bosco Tikoisuva, and dived, like an Olympic swimmer off the blocks, for the winning try. The noise was deafening and the clamour loud and rapturous; the score enabled Fiji to score its first-ever win over a major touring team.
As the players left the field, Fiji's famed Police Band played 'Isa Lei' the Fijian farewell song, and then 'Now is The Hour'. The Lions team boarded the windowless vehicle still in their playing gear, and as they were driven down a dusty road out of the Park the emotion of the day reached its climax. The happy crowd pushed towards the slow-moving bus, the Lions waved and shook hands by the hundreds, and then the band struck up 'Will Ye No Come Back Again?'
Nobody in the touring party seemed to mind losing, as the Fijian's delight was infectious. It was interesting to me though that the fact that the (local) referee had failed to whistle some dreadfully obvious forward passes and had blown a penalty count of 22-4 against the Lions seemed quickly forgotten.
Two All Black tests on the same day? Correct!
In Wellington NZ's a second team loses 11-6 to the Wallabies. 12 hours later in Durban the 'A' NZ team loses 9-3 to SA. A unique but disasterous day for NZ rugby!
Melrose, Stewart’s-Melville and Scotland
34 internationals for Scotland 1986–91
3 internationals for British Isles 1989
Stewart’s Melville and Scotland
27 internationals for Scotland 1981–85
1 international for British Isles 1983
Twins from a family of four rugby-playing brothers from Edinburgh, Jim and Finlay Calder held a unique place in world rugby: between them they virtually occupied one position in the Scottish team for 10 seasons.
Jim Calder was first into the Scottish team, playing as flanker against France in 1981. From then until 1985 he was a first choice in 27 Scottish test sides, missing only one international right through until the disastrous Scottish season of 1984–85. He scored the vital try against France that clinched the Grand Slam win for Scotland in 1983–84.
Finlay Calder took over his brother’s position as flanker in the Scottish team. His internationals were played consecutively as well, apart from missing one test, because of injury, in 1988 and another in 1989. He announced his retirement after the Scottish tour of New Zealand in 1990 and missed the 1990–91 Five Nations series, but he was then lured out of retirement in time to be back in the Scottish team for the World Cup of 1991.
At one point the Calder brothers had played on the side of the scrum in 55 of the 59 internationals Scotland played from 1981–90. Both had taken part in a Scottish Grand Slam: Jim in 1984 and Finlay in 1990.
Finlay Calder was a Scottish captain in 1988–89 and a British Isles skipper as well. In 1989 he led the Lions to Australia in his usual rollicking good- humoured way – off the field, that is. On the field he was grim and vigorous. The 2–1 test series win was the first the Lions had had on tour for 16 years.
Although the Calder twins did not actually play a test match together they, along with their brother John, were all together in the Scotland party which toured Australia in 1982. The third brother John Calder, also a loose forward, was equal top try-scorer on that tour. He was never capped in a full international match.
In 1990 Finlay Calder was awarded the OBE for his services to Scottish and British rugby.
On the Teen Rugby Show on TV in New Zealand (on 18 July 2006) which All Black used the words; 'bugger, shit, shits and shithouse' in a five minute item.