From
helping the clean-up effort after April 2020’s devastating Cyclone
Harold to planting crops at his parents’ subsistence farm, Fijian flyer
Alasio Naduva has kept himself busy throughout the recent
COVID-19-enforced lockdown. The good news for rugby fans, though, is
that “Mr Nitro” has also found novel ways to maintain his fitness.

No
access to gym equipment? No problem for Fiji’s Alasio Naduva. The 1.65m
winger has fought his way from a remote rural village to the heart of
the Fiji men’s rugby sevens team and, with the opportunity to help his
nation defend its Olympic crown looming, nothing is going to stop him
now.

“Because the gyms are locked, I am using paint tins,” Naduva
laughed. “I take out the paint, mix cement and put it in, and then get a
rod and make a weight bar into another tin full of cement. They weigh
around 20kg each. I also made some dumbbells.”

Such improvisation
comes naturally to the 29-year-old, who is a serving lance corporal in
the Fijian army. While he is excused large swathes of his duties in
order to represent his country in its national sport, Naduva has been on
the front line recently.

“During Cyclone Harold we were going to
cut up the fallen trees, clean up the roads, make the community better,
help people whose houses had been damaged,” he said of the second most
powerful cyclone on record to hit Fiji, which caused flooding and
destruction across the islands in early April 2020.

Once those
tasks were completed and it was clear he was not needed to help directly
in Fiji’s battle to contain COVID-19, Naduva took a boat out of the
capital, Suva, and headed to his childhood home. A 12-hour sail later
and the man commonly hailed as the fastest rugby player on the planet
right now was back where it all began.

“I planted cassava and
yams; when I was a child I used to farm all the time,” he said. “It was
great to go back. It’s been a long time.”

Naduva’s journey from
sowing and harvesting to winning the 2018/19 World Rugby Sevens Series
was lengthy too. Despite his now legendary speed – a quick trawl of the
World Rugby Sevens Series website showcases some of the extraordinary
tries he has scored in the last few seasons – Naduva never competed on
the track.

In fact, he only truly understood he was fast when he joined the army aged 18.

“It’s just natural, a God-given talent”, he said with a growing smile.

The
diminutive rocket made his World Series debut only in 2017/18 but has
scored a remarkable 72 tries in his 125 matches since. He cites, as his
favourite try to date, his last-minute match-winner against Australia in
the final of the 2018 Singapore Sevens. But for many viewers, the
corker he scored against Japan in Sydney last year will never be
bettered.

It is best described by the man himself.

“We used
to practise it; we’d call it a ‘greedy’. It was always the kick to the
back for me to chase down, make a tackle, and then we would try and turn
over the ball. But that kick passed all the Japan boys and I just kept
chasing. I didn’t want the ball going into touch [before he got there] so I sped [up] a little bit and scored that amazing try.”

It took
all of seven seconds from the whistle to Naduva touching down, and he
was clocked by the World Rugby cameras travelling at an incredible
36kmph while doing it.

“I can do better than that,” he said, the
laugh back. “It made me want to work harder. It showed me I can do more,
get faster. Now I am doing all my speed work [during the pause in the
international rugby calendar caused by the COVID-19 pandemic], maybe
next year will be something different.”

It is little wonder the
nickname “Mr Nitro” has stuck. People on the streets all over Fiji shout
out “Bula [an uplifting Fijian greeting], Mr Nitro” whenever he passes
during one of his many training runs. It helps that he played a key role
in helping secure that World Series crown in 2018/19, Fiji’s fourth
overall and first since winning consecutive titles in 2014/15 and
2015/16.

For a nation with a population of about 900,000, Fiji
boasts an enviable rugby sevens record. But even for a country that is
long used to savouring success, the Olympic Games Rio 2016 delivered
something special.

“That day was emotional,” Naduva recalled of 12
August 2016, when Fiji beat Great Britain 43-7 to win the inaugural
men’s rugby sevens Olympic title – and Fiji’s first Games medal of any
colour. “The whole country was watching TV. Fiji was in a mood to
celebrate.

“It has had a big impact. It’s put Fiji on the map,
promoted our beautiful islands and our people, especially our tourism.
Most of all, it has promoted the game of rugby sevens.

“It takes a lot of work to hit those standards that the old boys have. We have to stick there. It motivated me to work hard and pursue my dream of representing Fiji in the Olympic Games. If I am chosen to be part of the Tokyo squad next year, I will be grateful.”

FASANOC

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