Fiji captain Sereima Leweniqila has succinctly outlined her side’s goals for the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship 2023: “To defend the title, enjoy our rugby and qualify for WXV.”
Leweniqila was not involved in New Zealand last year as Fijiana wrapped up the championship with victories against Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa.
She subsequently led the team at Rugby World Cup 2021 and captained her country during last week’s defeat to Australia in Sydney. Although she will sit out Friday’s opening match against Papua New Guinea on the Gold Coast of Australia, it is a role she will continue for remainder of the championship.
Following their encounter with PNG, who they beat 152-0 last July, at Bond University, Fiji will then play Tonga four days later before bringing the tournament to a close against Samoa a week on Sunday.
Whoever wins the four-team tournament will qualify for WXV 2, which is scheduled to be played in Cape Town, South Africa, in October, while the runners-up will compete in WXV 3.
Having made their Rugby World Cup debut in New Zealand in late 2022, Leweniqila believes playing in WXV is integral to encouraging a new generation of talent to want to become a part of Fijiana themselves.
“It is really important,” she said. “The more tournaments we go to, the more tournaments we get exposed to, the young girls coming in they see these tournaments we’re going to and they get inspired to join.
“We get to preach the gospel of rugby around the world, about Fiji and tell our sisters, our neighbourhood sisters, that we play rugby and all those things.
“But in terms of qualifying, it will give so much inspiration and motivation to the younger generation to join in and get on board with women’s rugby around the Pacific.”
Leweniqila scored one of Fijiana Drua’s five tries as they retained their Super W title with a 38-30 victory against the Queensland Reds in the grand final on 6 May.
The captain was one of 10 players who started that match who were also selected in the Fiji starting line-up against the Wallaroos at Allianz Stadium last Saturday.
Despite slipping to a 22-5 defeat in Sydney, Leweniqila believes the match was ideal preparation for what awaits in the championship in Gold Coast.
“As a team, it really has prepared us well,” she said. “Going against a quality side actually allowed us to gauge ourselves as well.
“So, to come into the tournament after a test against the Wallaroos is a positive on our side because we know what we can work on, we know our weaknesses and strengths, and we’ll work on it in the next few games.”
“What an amazing experience”
Leweniqila revealed that the squad is excited to start the defence of their Oceania title and although seven players selected to face PNG on Friday are either new to test rugby or returning after long absences, lessons have been learnt from the squad’s experience at RWC 2021.
Fiji lost to England and France in New Zealand but recorded their first Rugby World Cup victory, beating South Africa 21-17 thanks to Karalaini Naisewa’s late try.
“It was an amazing experience, just going against the world’s best,” Leweniqila said. “A lot of us have learned a lot from it and as a team as well we would just like to keep getting exposed to that kind of environment and competition.
“What an amazing experience and a privilege and an honour to represent your country.
“It’s given confidence as well to the players [and] to those who are looking up to join the Fijiana team in the future.
“It’s given a lot of motivation and inspiration that girls would want to come out and play for Fijiana in the future, and it has made the team a lot better knowing that we can go head-to-head with the world’s best.”