RN side makes history at international Rugby 7s contest in Fiji

Storyline: Australia

Royal Navy rugby players flew half-way around the globe to take on Fiji’s finest teams – and help their hosts prepare for the Olympics.

The squad were invited to join the best Rugby 7s sides in Fiji and surrounding area for the renowned Bitter Marist tournament

No team travelled further (16,000km/9,940 miles) to take part in the three-day contest than the Royal Navy – it’s the first time a side from UK has participated in the competition, now in its 48th year.

For making that tremendous effort alone, the side were honoured by their hosts with a standing ovation and received traditional sulu skirts and garlands.

Nearly 90 teams threw their hats in the ring for the event – men’s/women’s and U18 sides all taking to the field.

Split across two grounds in the capital Suva, Bitter Marist is a festival of rugby with up to 44 matches per day from 7.15 in the morning through to the final games shortly before 8pm, with sides in action three or four times in a day.

The competition is focused on developing rugby at the grassroots level in Fiji – but with one eye firmly on the Olympic team heading to Paris this summer to defend its gold medal from Tokyo 2020, making it a tournament of rugby played to the highest standard.

Sadly, despite their best efforts – and despite being joined by guest player and Olympic gold medallist Napolioni Balaca – the RN didn’t make the finals (the DCX Army Green were crowned champions), but they will take the experience and any lessons learned into the Inter-Service contest in June.

“Fiji has been incredible, to experience the culture and customs has been an honour and one I will cherish forever – in Fiji, Rugby 7s is more of a religion that just a game, it’s engrained into every single person,” said Petty Officer David ‘Trigger’ Heming, RNRU 7s logistics manager.

“To watch teams play with the freedom and expression has been incredible. The Marist 7s was always going to be difficult, and it was disappointing not to have progressed into the latter stages of the competition, but I believe we have learnt so much more than just rugby whilst we have been here. I am proud of what we have achieved and on our return to the UK we will strive to rectify our game so when we come back to Fiji we will be competing for the top prizes.”


Royal Marine Freddie Elliott added: “It’s my first time in Fiji and it has been incredible to play with an Olympic gold medallist but, for me, when I’m playing with my family’s name’s on my back, it means they can be here with us as well. All I aim to do is make my family proud which I hope I have done.”

Thanks to the UK’s historic links with the Pacific islands, there was a strong Fijian-born contingent in the RN squad: two players, two coaching staff and one photographer.

“It has been nice to see the Royal Navy Rugby 7’s team embrace the Fijian culture, experience our food and embrace the lifestyle during the competition,” said the latter, Leading Photographer Unaisi Amei ‘May’ Luke.

“It was truly wholesome to see fellow Fijians welcoming them and giving them a standing ovation for travelling so far to compete and was a pleasure to capture.”

Commander Rob O’Kane, the Director of Rugby for the Royal Navy added: “I have served with many Fijian servicemen and women during my career and the culture and community spirit that they all display, in all that they do, is really quite special.”

The Navy rugby team’s presence in Fiji coincides with a visit by patrol ship HMS Tamar which is working with local and New Zealand authorities to clamp down on illegal fishing activity in Fijian waters as well as reinforcing the UK’s link with the Commonwealth nation.

It was truly wholesome to see fellow Fijians welcoming them and giving them a standing ovation for travelling so far to compete and was a pleasure to capture.

Leading Photographer Unaisi Amei ‘May’ Luke