Trailblazer – Fiji’s first Blackfern

Image Credit: Tanya Kalounivale

In the near 120 years since the All-Blacks first test match, 15 Fijians or sons of Fijians have worn the the famous Black jersey.

And it’s not until now, 2021,  when women rightfully can forge their own paths in rugby, will we see a Fijian woman represent the women’s equivalent of the All-Blacks, the New Zealand Black Ferns.

That woman is Tanya Kalounivale.

Born in Suva, she grew up at Cunningham Stage 4 up until the age of 6 before her family moved back to Raiwaqa.

“From there I spent two years then we moved to Lami then finally back in Raiwaqa when I was in class 6 at Nehru Memorial Primary. Form 3-6 in Suva Grammar and than I went to USP to do foundation in 2017”.

“I just thank GOD to be honest. He has brought not just me but my family to a situation where we just had to Trust in Him”
Tanya (middle) with her Mother, three brothers and father.
Her biological father (pictured) Selesitino Kalounivale Snr,
a native of Kanakana, Tunuloa, tragically passed away when
Tanya was only 21 months old.

Her favourite memories “would be playing duby touch with my brothers and cousins, and tackling them.

I grew up surrounded by brothers that love to play sports especially rugby. Well to be honest when you are born in Fiji Rugby is the national sport and the only reason that stopped me from playing was the stigma around woman’s rugby in Fiji”.

Tanya with her Dad Samisoni Speight. He is originally from
Wainibuka in Tailevu.

New Beginnings

In 2017, before she could finish her Foundation studies, she moved to New Zealand with her mother Ana and one of her brothers.

That’s where her Rugby journey started as she joined Hamilton Old-Boys Women’s team, known as the Huskiez.

For the next 5 years she played for Waikato and in 2021 she was amongst the first women to play under the Chiefs banner when they took on the Blues in a one-off match, the first of it’s kind.

Tanya has grown into  a leader and is the rock of the Waikato Pack so it’s no surprise that National honours were just around the corner. And in 2020, she got the call-up –

“Last year I was picked but I couldn’t play because I was carrying an injury. This year I’m picked again for the Northern tour where we will face England for two games and France for two games also.”

When asked what she thinks of being the first Fijian Black Fern, the humble 22 year old replies;

“I just thank GOD to be honest. He has brought not just me but my family to a situation where we just had to Trust in Him”

Playing in her first test match will no doubt cause for reflection and Tanya is more than happy to don the Black jersey and is “ Proud that I get to at least give back to this country that has given so much to us”.

On what her family thinks of her achievement?

“They are very proud and just thankful. For me to be able to represent a Country that has given  us a second chance in life.”

Women’s Rugby has taken big strides in the past decade. Today it is the fastest growing sector in Rugby as a whole.

Tanya, much like the Fijiana Sevens team and all Women playing the sport we love, are the Trailblazers who are breaking new barriers for future generations. Tanya’s message to the Fijian girls and women who would like to play rugby;

“We are always judged by our Appearances and the way we are. That Rugby in Fiji is a male sport which it isn’t . We are all care takers of the sport. No matter what sport. Gender does not define what sport we can or can’t play. If you love it do it.”

Article originally posted in Issue 1 of the Rakaviti Online Magazine.

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