SPEECH: HON. PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA AT THE FIJI RUGBY UNION LUNCH FOR MAORI ALL BLACKS

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You can feel the excitement building everywhere in Fiji on the eve of tomorrow’s big game. And as President of the Fiji Rugby Union, I’m delighted to welcome our New Zealand friends to Fiji and to say that we are all looking forward to seeing you in action against our boys at the ANZ Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

From the time you do your Haka and we do our Cibi, I’m sure every rugby fan in Fiji will be treated to a great spectacle. So I welcome you all to Fiji on behalf of the nation and may the best team win – ours. But seriously, we also wish you the very best of luck tomorrow afternoon and hope you have a wonderful time in Fiji.

I’m especially pleased to single out Wayne Peters – the Maori Representative on the New Zealand Rugby Football Union Board -Collin Cooper, Tabai Matson, the Maori All Blacks management team and, of course, the players led by Charlie Ngatai.

There’s a picture of Charlie on the front page of one of our papers today with one of the longest tongues I’ve ever seen. In the olden days, it would have been a very tasty morsel. But even today, Charlie, you’d be advised to keep it firmly in your mouth after the Haka to avoid getting it hurt.

Someone else is here who is also remembered fondly by older Fijian fans – Peter Goldsmith, who played in Fiji with the Maoris in 1973. Welcome back, Peter. I’m sure you’ll find a big difference in our facilities 42 years on. Because in the ANZ Stadium, Fiji finally has a sporting venue built to international standards and we’re very proud to have somewhere to play that is worthy of this great game tomorrow.

I also want to acknowledge the Flying Fijians in the room – coach John McKee, his team and support staff. And, of course, the Pride of Our Nation tomorrow – the players themselves led by Akapusi Qera. You have the benefit of having every Fijian on your side for this match. And we’re sure that you will uphold the great tradition of Fijian rugby of providing the whole nation with a wonderful spectacle, as well as the viewers in New Zealand.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m very glad to be able to draw attention to the important nature of this gathering for Fijian rugby. It is a fundraising luncheon and I want to thank the various corporate bodies and individuals for giving it your support. We very much appreciate the efforts you are all making to support the game in Fiji. But the truth is that we need to raise a lot more money to keep rugby strong and, especially, to maintain and improve the high standard we need to meet in the 21st century to stay internationally competitive.

We are a Pacific Small Island Developing State playing against the big boys of world rugby – countries with huge resources and access to the kind of corporate funding we simply don’t have in Fiji. Over the years, we’ve always done more with less. We’ve always punched above our weight. And the proof of that is the fact that our Sevens team are the current world champions and will represent us for the first time at the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro next year.

But we need to do more with more. We need to keep punching as hard as we can to maintain our place in world rugby. So I appeal to all of you who can afford it to dig deeper. To tie your corporate fortunes to our nation’s fortunes on the rugby field. To give your name an honoured place in Fijian rugby. To ride the wave of enthusiasm among our people for the game we all love and play so well. Spread the word among the business community in Fiji. Your country needs you to keep Fijian rugby healthy.

Indeed to assist the private sector to assist our national rugby team in their preparations for the World Cup, my Government only yesterday approved amendments to the Income Tax Act to give sponsors of the national team a 150 per cent tax rebate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With food around, I want to keep this short. But it’s worth closing with some history behind tomorrow’s game, which we’re all looking forward to so eagerly.

The Fiji rugby and Maori All Blacks connection spans a timeline of 77 years. Over those years, we have played each other 28 times with the Maoris winning 19 games, drawing twice and losing seven.

History is definitely on your side. But you can be sure the Flying Fijians will be going onto the field tomorrow determined to set the historical record straight.

With the World Cup just 70 days away and our PNC tournament beginning next week, we’re delighted that we are getting to play a team that has some of the best players in New Zealand right now. We like playing the best and I’m told that’s what we are getting – players blooded in Super Rugby and the Provincial ITM Cup Competition. So to all of you – on behalf of Fijians fans – thank you for honouring us with your presence. And the whole nation looks forward to an afternoon of fantastic rugby.

I personally want to see this become an annual fixture and I’m sure the many tens of thousands of other rugby fans in Fiji agree with me. But to both teams, all the very best for tomorrow and to the visiting Kiwis, enjoy the rest of your stay.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.