It felt like Fijian supporters were everywhere you looked as the Sevens kicked off in Hamilton.

The sport is like a religion for the country, one supporter said, and faithfuls showed up in force – and in blue – on Saturday morning, to back their team in the HSBC New Zealand Sevens.

The day started well for them, with Fiji winning 54-7 in its first match against Wales.

But it wasn’t just the Fijians in the FMG Stadium; punters also came dressed as priests or avocados, as pirates, Teletubbies, ancient Romans and Where’s Wally.

The lure of watching the Fijian sevens team play prompted Mereoni Gaunavinake’s first visit to New Zealand.

She was in the stands well before Fiji’s first game on Saturday morning, in a blue shirt, white lei, and sporting an infectious smile.

“Fiji’s the defending champion at the moment, and the biggest rival is New Zealand,” she said. “Hopefully …. they get to take the title again.”

Rugby is “like a religion back home”, said Sera Rayasidamu, who now lives in Auckland.

Despite being a big fan of the code, Saturday was her first time at the sevens.

The player the pair was watching out for was Jerry Tuawai, who went from a youngster growing up in a shantytown to captaining the Fijian sevens side for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Tuawai is also a favourite for Rohit Sharma who classes himself as one of the “crazy Fiji supporters”.

He’s been to tournaments in Wellington and Hong Kong, and said Hamilton had a good atmosphere. He’d settled on a grassy spot behind the goalposts with extended family – including a cousin who came over from Fiji to see the tournament.

 

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