Sevuloni Mocenacagi’s Redemption

Image Credit: Mike Lee for World Rugby

April 2021, shockwaves spread throughout the Fiji Rugby Community and fanbase as one of its best players was sensationally axed from the national team. Sevuloni Mocenacagi was a big part of the Sevens program and a critical player at any tournament let alone the impending Olympic Games.

His versatility, physicality and mobility made him a scary prospect for opposition teams but he also played right on the edge, often pushing boundaries and probably owes a bit of rent to the sin bin chair.

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Every team has one, every team needs one, and every team leaves room for one, but only one. They are the double edged sword in every teams armoury and Fiji have not been short of one throughout the decades.

My mind is cast back to my first memory of the rugged, take no prisoners Fijian muscle appropriately nicknamed “Steelman” the late Aminiasi Naituyaga. Never backing down, taking on all comers and built his reputation as the guy you don’t want to run into. And while he is no longer with us, he left his imprint on Fiji rugby forklore, our memories and his victims on the field.

The fallout

In January of 2021, Mocenacagi was dealt a 12 week suspension for throwing the ball at the referee. His actions ultimately leading to losing his spot in the national team and prompting then coach Gareth Baber to say;

“Unfortunately the model that Sevu provided for the young people of Fiji was not of a professional player and a national standard for Fiji; We wouldn’t tolerate the values as a group of players and it is not the values of the Fiji Rugby Union.”

It also brought about a flurry of support and wave of opinion. Former Captain Osea Kolinisau stated “Sevu would make the line-up in any Olympics team,” He is the complete 7s player with pace and power, strong defence and attack and has the experience.”

His former coach Ben Ryan, the man that gave Sevu his first jersey, told the Fiji Times “I selected him after watching him play for Yamacia. An amazing athlete, he had height and power and when he came into camp, he was very hardworking and keen to learn. He was a very disciplined player off the field when I knew him and I’m sure that hasn’t changed. I’d hope there was a way back for him if his form playing in local tournaments deserved that

On the 19th of May 2021 the Fiji Sun featured an article titled “Fans want Mocenacagi back”

But the Navosa tall timber handled it with class and didn’t shirk the blame. He accepted the FRU’s decision and apologised to the nation; “I’m sorry for letting the team and the country down”

New opportunities

Two months after the Olympics, on October 8th it was revealed Sevu had signed a contract for Uson Nevers in the Pro D2 as injury cover for fellow Fijian Alivereti Loaloa. Mocenacagi earning his first professional contract with the help of former Flying Fijian and Sevens World Cup winner Sireli Bobo, giving Sevu a chance to change the trajectory of his career. On December 3rd he made his debut at centre and went on to play a further 4 matches that season.

The Comeback

With the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup in sights, Sevens coach Ben Gollings was tasked with spearheading the Sevens side to a gold medal and a trophy that have eluded Fiji like William Ryder on the South African defence. For one reason or another Fiji are yet to finish in top spot at the Commonwealth Games and the Melrose Cup has not been sighted since 2009 when the Welsh were crowned World Champions.

Gollings made the call, and much to the delight of all Fijians, Sevu was back in the frame. His hard work, dedication and faith that one day he would get another chance was about to materialise. While the door on Olympic Gold closed, a window opened up and down a dimly lit path the lamp post was on his way to redemption.

Sevu Mocenacagi back in Fiji colours. Credit Mike Lee for World Rugby

On the 20th of May 2022, Mocenacagi was back in the white and black of Fiji at the Toulose Sevens where they went on to win the competition. His comeback completed with the focus quickly shifting to the Commonwealth Games and World Cup.

Not 2 years after leaving the Fiji team, he is now a Commonwealth Silver Medallist and a World Champion. A true testament to the young man’s character and an inspiration to all Fijians should they find themselves in a similar situation. To quote a famous Rocky Balboa quote “it’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”.

While I speak for for many Fijians in saying he had nothing to prove to us, there was nothing to forgive as he gave us many memorable moments. To himself a deep conviction to prove to himself and his family, to right a wrong, that should the opportunity ever came his way, he would not let anyone down and start a new chapter in the Sevuloni Mocenacagi story.

Join in the conversation

Comment below on what you think of Sevuloni Mocenacagi’s comeback. He signed a new deal with Rouen in the Pro D2 but could also appear much more regularly for Fiji. We will continue to follow his progress along with all other Fijians in the Rugby world.

Read related post from 2021 – By the numbers

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