Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Bula ... Fiji flyer Matanavou shows off his Toulouse rugby brand

Timoci Matanavou scores his fourth try in a Top 14 match against Lyon Olympique. Video: Stade Toulousain

By Shayal Devi in Toulouse, France

Many people often believe that when it comes to rugby, no one can hold a candle to the zealousness of Fijian fans.

And while this is evidently true in the way that Fijians follow the game, people in other parts of the world are equally captivated by the game.

Take the people of the south-western French city Toulouse, for example.

Fortunate enough to be part of a media group that travelled to France courtesy of Fiji Airways and the French Embassy in Fiji, I was able to see a different side of this beautiful European nation.

Slightly warmer than Paris, the fourth largest city of France felt just like home the moment we landed.

From the friendly smiles to the apparent love for rugby, Toulouse was a little slice of home.

The "Pink City", as it is fondly known, is home to two of the most revered brands in modern aviation — Airbus and ATR.

But that isn't all.

Over the years, many Fijians have also come to call Toulouse home, our rugby boys in particular.

The Fiji Times was lucky enough to meet Ra lad Timoci Matanavou, who currently features for Stade Toulousain as a winger in the French Top 14.

Matanavou has been living in France for the past five years and has settled quite nicely in his new surroundings.

Having carved a successful rugby career in recent years, one only has to marvel at the determination and courage of the 27-year-old when seeing him walk through the streets of Toulouse.

Fluent French
Perfectly fluent in French, Matanavou had no qualms about taking time off training to show the Fijian journalists around Toulouse.

For us, it was a sight to behold as complete strangers walked up to Matanavou asking for his autograph or taking a picture with him.

Restaurant owners clamoured around him to ensure that he had everything in order when we visited some popular eateries for a bite to eat.

Matanavou said such incidents still overwhelmed him at times.

There were also instances where parents have invited him over to dinner to meet their children, who are fans of his.

But despite the glitz and glamour of the rugby high life, it soon became evident that Matanavou missed Fiji immensely.

When asked what he missed the most about Fiji, he replied with a simple "The people".

Flying Fijians
Similar sentiments were echoed by former Flying Fijians rep Sunia Koto.

He and his family, have settled in the quaint town of Narbonne, where he plays for the local rugby team in the Tier 2 competition.

Other notable Fijians playing in France include Samisoni Viriviri and Napolioni Nalaga.

These Fijians are today rubbing shoulders with some of the best rugby players in the Northern Hemisphere.

Having the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible rugby players in the Northern Hemisphere was unbelievable.

Somehow, it still feels like a crazy dream.

And I was able to cross out the "Meet a famous rugger" from my bucket list.

'Magical' meetings
Thanks to Matanavou, we were able to meet former All Black Luke McAllister, Springbok Chiliboy Ralepelle, les Bleus and Toulouse captain Thierry Dusautoir, fullback Maxime "Wolverine" Medard and winger Vincent Clerc.

And boy, was it magical.

I was literally star struck when I met Dusautoir. Here before me stood the man who had scored the lone try for his country during the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. Dusautoir is also one of the best flankers in the world.

Both Medard and Clerc had also featured for France during the last World Cup.

Through all the struggles and challenges, Fijians in France are relishing the opportunity of living in the beautiful European country.

So here's to rugby and our Fijian boys who are amazing ambassadors of our country overseas!

Shayal Devi is a Fiji Times journalist. 

Timoci Matanavou talks up the Toulouse rugby team's facilities to Fiji reporters. Video: FijiVillage

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