In running out at Eden Park against England last Saturday, Vitalina Naikore achieved something she did not know was possible less than a year ago.

Naikore admits playing at Rugby World Cup 2021 was not on her radar prior to being called into the extended Fijiana Drua squad ahead of the team’s debut Super W campaign.

But if accepting coach Senirusi Seruvakula’s invitation seemed like a gamble at the time, then it is one that has paid off handsomely for the electric winger.

On leaving her family home on the island of Vanua Levu, where she played football as well as rugby, to join the squad in Fiji’s capital, Suva, Naikore set about making the most of her opportunity.

She was subsequently selected in the Fijiana Drua squad that won the Super W title – scoring a hat-trick in the final and being named Player of the Championship – and has since become a mainstay of the national team too.

Naikore scored 40 points as Fiji won the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship in July and last weekend, she lined up on the left wing as the team made their Rugby World Cup debut in Auckland.

Asked by World Rugby if she could have envisioned playing at RWC 2021 prior to Seruvakula’s call, Naikore said: “No, because I was juggling both sports.

“I was playing rugby for Macuata women’s team and also for Labasa football team. I was just hoping to get a chance in either sport.”

Team player

Naikore has taken the opportunity that came her way in rugby with both hands, becoming an integral player for both the Fijiana Drua and the national team over the past seven months.

At Eden Park, she made 42 metres with ball in hand, from only four carries, while hitting more defensive rucks than any other Fijian player.

She is not keen to dwell on personal achievements, though. When discussing the three tries she scored to help the Fijiana Drua to a memorable 32-26 Super W final win against the Waratahs in April, Naikore credits the collective.

“I just want to thank my team-mates,” she said. “The hat-trick wouldn’t have been possible without my team-mates helping me.”

“It would be a massive achievement”

That is of course true, but as viewers of the brilliant behind-the-scenes documentary, ‘Let’s Play’ will know, the 32 members of the Fiji squad in New Zealand have all had to overcome obstacles to be there.

So, what does Naikore attribute her success on the rugby pitch in 2022 to?

“My commitment and dedication to rugby as I was away from home,” Naikore said. “I left my parents and siblings back in Vanua Levu and came to the capital city to pursue a dream.”

That dream will continue for Naikore and her Fijiana team-mates on Sunday when they take on South Africa at Waitakere Stadium in Auckland.

With only the top two in each pool and the two best third-placed teams advancing to the quarter-finals, it is a pivotal match for the both nations as they attempt to qualify for the last eight.

Naikore says that the only goal the squad has set themselves on New Zealand’s North Island is to “work as a team so that we have a smooth and memorable journey”.

But what would it mean to qualify for the quarter-finals at their first ever Rugby World Cup?

“It would be a massive achievement,” Naikore added. “[Similar to] when we won the Super W final in Australia.

“With God’s grace and putting up first before I do anything, I and my team-mates leave everything on him.”