The last decade saw the national team take giant leaps in the set piece, most notably the scrummaging. In years past opposition teams would relish the chance to get our forwards into a scrum as the result was almost certainly Fiji getting shoved back.
The work done by Fiji Rugby as a whole must be commended, it is arguably their biggest achievement throughout the decade. Even more remarkable that the results were completely reversed using virtually the same players.
From 2000-2009, players like Greg Smith, Isaia Rasila, Bill Gadolo, Graham Dewes, Nacanieli Seru, Sunia Koto, Joeli Veitayaki and Jone Railomo were just some of the names in the front line. The 2010’s compromised of three Rugby World Cups and a host of loose-heads, tight-heads and hookers vying for a spot in the Flying Fijians or other respective countries.
As always performances at club and international level are taken into account and feature Fijian Born players and those who are Fijian through ancestry.
10. Kalivati Tawake (2016-2019)
Kicking our list off at 10 is former Fijian Drua prop Kalivati Tawake. Kali had stints with Biarritz and the NSW Waratahs between 2018-2019.
He was initially selected in the 2019 31 man RWC Squad but was later replaced by Lee Roy Atalifo due to injury. He has worn the national jersey on 13 occasions from 2016-2019.Embed from Getty Images
9. Eroni Mawi (2017-2019)
23 year old Eroni Mawi was one of the very first graduates of the Drua NRC team. The young prop has shown maturity beyond his experience and has proven his worth at all levels for Fiji including the RWC 2019 where he came off the bench as part of the front row rotation.
Mawi was part of the Drua side that won the 2018 NRC and young Flying Fijians side that defeated the Barbarians at Twickenham last November. He has all the qualities of a leader and could possibly captain Fiji in the future.
8. Sam Matavesi (2013-2019)
Current 15’s starting hooker Sam Matavesi first appeared for Fiji in 2013. He was recalled into the side in late 2018 and started the match against France in the November tests.
Sam, who also works as a Royal Navy officer, showed strong form leading into the 2019 RWC and was rewarded with a spot in the 31 man squad. After the World Cup he signed with Premiership side Northampton Saints where he plays alongside Api Ratuniyarawa and Taqele Naiyarovoro.
7. Tuapati Talemaitoga (2010-2019)
Hooker Tuapati Talemaitoga was first selected for representative honours in 2010. By the end of the decade he’d appeared 43 times for Fiji including the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups.
He’s provided great service in the front row for his home nation and also had stints at Stade Francais and Provence.
6. Jerry Yanuyanutawa (2010-2016)
Former Fijian prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa played over 75 top grade games from 2010-2016 for the Brumbies, London Irish and Glasgow.
He wore the white for Fiji on 19 occasions from 2012-2016. Jerry currently works as a school teacher in Canberra, Australia.Embed from Getty Images
5. Peni Ravai (2013-2019)
Flying Fijians hybrid Peni Ravai comes in at number 5. Ravai has the rare ability to pack down in the scrum at prop but also has the athleticism and speed to play centre or wing. Ravai also represented the Fiji Sevens team in 2013.
He was selected in the 2015 and 2019 World Cup squads and currently turns out for Bordeaux in the French Top 14. Ravai will most likely be Fiji’s front row leader at the next World Cup.
4. Salesi Ma’afu (2013-2019)
Salesi Ma’afu made his Super Rugby debut for the ACT Brumbies in 2007. In 2010 he made his international debut for the Wallabies, ironically against Fiji and his brother Campese, who was also on debut. It was the first time in history that brothers made their test debuts in the same game on opposing sides.
Ma’afu played over 20 games for the Wallabies including the 2011 RWC. He’s played for numerous top clubs including the Western Force, Northampton, Toulon, Cardiff and Gloucester.
Before we get to the top three Fijian front rowers of the past decade, we’d like to mention a few names who were unlucky not be on the list: Sunia Koto, Alex Hodgman, Joeli Veitayaki, George Bower, Isei Colati, Ratunaisa Navuma, Lee Roy Aatalifo and Taniela Koroi.
3. Deacon Manu (2010-2012)
New Zealand born Deacon Manu represented Fiji on 14 occasions between 2009-2012. He was named as captain in 2010 and would later lead the side at the 2011 RWC.
He spent time with the Waikato Chiefs and the Blues in Super Rugby and played over 150 games for Welsh club Scarlets.Embed from Getty Images
2. Manasa Saulo (2012-2019)
Making his first appearance for Fiji in 2012, Ratu Manasa Saulo became a staple in the Fiji forward pack for the remainder of the decade.
He was selected in the 2015 RWC and in 2019 selected again as a starting front rower. Apart from his on-field presence, Manasa is known for his locker room influence often lifting players energy and being a positive influence on his team-mates.
He’s represented Fiji on over 40 occasions and is currently with London Irish after stints with Toulon and Romanian club Timisoara.
1.Campese Ma’afu (2010-2019)
Throughout the 10 year period from 2010-2019, no other player appeared for Fiji more than prop Campese Ma’afu. Plucked out of the Sydney competition playing for West Harbour, Ma’afu made his debut for the Fijians against his brother Salesi who was debuting for the Wallabies on the same night.
Fijian Rugby fans have witnessed Ma’afu grow from a player who was constantly penalised and seen as a weakness in the Fijian scrum to a world class prop who held his own against any opposition towards the second half of the decade.
Campese’s last game for Fiji was against Wales in the 2019 RWC, he retired from international Rugby with 58 tests before representing the Barbarians against Fiji a month later.