Tevita Cavubati’s story is a familiar one among professional rugby players from the Pacific Islands.
Aged 17, Cavubati was offered a place at Whanganui City College on New Zealand’s North Island, and enrolled in the Taranaki Rugby academy.
He had never left Fiji when he made the 2,500km journey from Suva to Whanganui — a path also taken at different times by Akapusi Qera and Waisake Noholo — but did so to follow his dream of becoming a test rugby player.
“It was like a culture shock for me because I'd never been on an aeroplane before and never spoke really good English back then,” Cavubati told World Rugby.
“But the rugby was absolutely amazing in New Zealand, the skill level was unreal.”
‘Super Rugby is perfect’
Cavubati’s route to the Taranaki first team was blocked by Jason Eaton and Jarrad Hoeata, who both played for the All Blacks, but the second-row did enough in his time in New Zealand to attract the attention of Gordon Tietjens.
However, Cavubati turned down the opportunity to represent New Zealand Sevens in order to return home and pursue his ambition of becoming a Flying Fijian.
The second row did so quicker than he could have hoped, playing in test defeats to Tonga and Japan in July, 2011.
Without a wealth of club experience to fall back on, though, Cavubati admits feeling “exposed” in those matches and so returned to New Zealand, with Tasman, in 2012.
It was a move that paid dividends, and following three years in Nelson he has gone on to represent Fiji at two Rugby World Cups while playing for Ospreys, Worcester, Newcastle and now Harlequins.
Cavubati, though, hopes the proposed inclusion of Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika in Super Rugby will help create the pathways that ensure future generations from the Pacific Islands do not have to travel so far to continue their own development.
“One thing that's driving all islanders to leave Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, to leave the islands, [is] better money, better opportunities.
“We always dreamt of playing Super Rugby, but now we've got a local team it will stop players from leaving,” he said.
“Young kids would want to play for the Super Rugby team rather than leave their homes, because a lot of islanders, when they leave… they’re so lost, [it’s a] culture shock.
“They have been in their village, they leave and then they get lost in this world and they actually lose their focus. Because they're away from their family, everything is so new to them and then trying to restart is quite difficult.
“But this is perfect, they just slot straight in and they're really close to home. Their village is just two hours away, so it'll be good for them as individuals and also for Fiji.”
Cavubati added: “I was watching some of the news where they got to interview some young (Fijian) kids.
“Before, my age, my era, they all wanted to go and play for the All Blacks, but now they're saying, ‘I want to be a Flying Fijian’.
“So, all these big names, like Semi Radradra, actually make them want to play now, so now they want to stay, and this Super Rugby is perfect.”
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Bryan Williams has been a keen advocate of Moana Pasifika’s bid for inclusion in Super Rugby.
And, the former All Black — who coached Samoa at three Rugby World Cups — believes the new team can have a transformative impact across the Pacific Islands.
“I think it has real implications for the national teams and national unions, and that has been one of our objectives,” Williams said last week.
“We need to put an infrastructure in place. Money is certainly part of the equation, and coaches and a roster of players who are going to be competitive.
“Hopefully they’ll give us a little bit of time to put those things in place. Any new franchise coming into any professional competition will take a bit of time to get their feet on the ground.
“One thing that gives me a huge amount of confidence… I went to a tag tournament in Papakura recently, there were thousands of kids, and the skill level was so high. The great majority of these kids were Pasifika.
“So, the kids are there. They’re just waiting for their opportunity.”