Campaigns come and go, broncos get run, weights get lifted, tackles get made, brotherhoods are formed, highs are experienced and lows are endured, and inevitably for every athlete, D-day arrives when it’s time to hang up the boots; and for one of the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians true sons, Campese Ma’afu the time has come to close the chapter on his international rugby career.
Speaking on his arrival back in Fiji following the Rugby World Cup, the 61 cap veteran shared the emotions of this final call.
“It was quite a tough decision when I sat down with my wife to discuss that it was time to step away from the Flying Fijians after a 10-year career” said Ma’afu.
Ma’afu said the Flying Fijians meant everything to him from the very first day he stepped on to the field in the white jersey.
“This team has been everything for me. It’s been my passion, pride, club, and my family.
“It’s been a highlight of my career as well and I have given my all and I know for a fact that I have left the jersey in a better place to pave the way for the young guns coming through.
“It’s been a very enjoyable journey.
Ma’afu has been there through the evolution of professional rugby and a new era in performance for the Fijian XVs game and admits the journey has been challenging.
“Being a Flying Fijian is not an easy task, it’s a massive task” said Ma’afu
“Coming in as a young guy and playing alongside the biggest guns in the game was huge, and then joining the senior group is a massive responsibility.
“We have been through the highs and the lows but regardless, for me, I have always stuck by the Flying Fijians and nothing has ever changed that for me” he said.
Renowned for his emotional expression during the national anthem and his subtle but proud touch of the Fiji Rugby emblem when running onto the pitch, Ma’afu’s passion for the white jersey has always been inspiring.
“Every-time I step up there in the number one white jersey, for me it’s more than just a game.
“I represent my people, family, heritage, ancestors and Fiji, which holds a special a place in my life.”
The Sydney-born loosehead prop made his debut for the Flying Fijians in 2009 and has since played 61 test matches including three Rugby World Cups from 2011.
Ma’afu is the middle of 3 brothers, Salesi & Apakuki, born and raised in the Western suburbs of Sydney, with a Tongan father hailing from Kolovai and Fijian mother from Kadavu.
Ma’afu family made an especially interesting mark in rugby history in 2010 when the two brothers, Salesi and Campese, played against each other in a test match between Australia and Fiji.
Elder brother Salesi played for the Wallabies at tight-head Prop while younger brother Campese played for Fiji at loose-head prop.
A third brother, the youngest, Apakuki, plays for Tonga.
“When I look at my brothers representing different countries, I always tell myself other teams don’t have what the Flying Fijians have.
“You have to be a Flying Fijian to experience the culture we have and it’s more than just a team to us” he said.
As he turns in the number 1 jersey to the future generations, Ma’afu hopes he has paved a path to those aspiring to follow in his place.
“I hope that I have left a good legacy for the young guns.
“I said to the young players in the airplane on our way back, that always chase the dream never chase the money
“They should keep putting their hands up for Fiji regardless of how much they earn for the clubs.”
As Fiji’s third highest capped international, with 61 matches, three Rugby World Cups, two tries, ten points and a lifetime of hard hits, big tackles, mischievous tussles and an uncompromising attitude of toughness, Fiji Rugby can proudly extend their gratitude to a great statesman of the White Jersey and declare, yes Campo, you sure did leave a legacy that will last long into the future. Vinaka.