The 2022 Oceania Rugby Sevens Challenge took place last month at Norths Rugby Club in Brisbane, showcasing some of the best talent the continent has to offer.
Players such as Tim Clements of Australia took the field, fresh off a Hong Kong sevens title, as well as rising superstars in the game such as Tonga’s Kyren Taumoefolau. However, sharing the pitch with these superstars were the Kiribati Men’s sevens side, making history by being the first ever rugby team to represent their nation at the international level.
The Kiribati squad, led by head coach Barrie Karea, was comprised of players who lacked the international experience of their competitors, however what they lacked in experience they more than made up for with heart. The squad became an instant fan favourite at Hugh Courtney Oval, and when Tambwereti Arimaere crossed over for his country’s first ever international try the applause from the crowd was deafening.
Arimaere’s try was a rare moment of joy for the Kiribati squad though, as across their five games they racked up a cumulative score of 7-279. Some would say that a performance like this is something to be ashamed of, however, Karea says that he couldn’t be prouder of how his team played.
“In fairness the boys have only had a few weeks to prepare. The difference between our first game against Papua New Guinea and our last game against Niue was really impressive, regardless of what the scoreboard says. It’s about understanding the game and I think they’re starting to get it now.”
“Honestly, they only had one request of me, and that was to play without their boots. I think the boots have been getting in their way, so if they could’ve played barefoot, I think our tournament would’ve gone much different” joked a delighted Karea.
Despite his positive outlook on last weekend’s performance, Karea isn’t planning on Kiribati to be a pushover for much longer.
“We have an amazing future in rugby, but this is just a starting point. We have players currently playing premiership rugby in the UK who are unable to come to Brisbane for this tournament. We didn’t have plenty of preparation for this competition, but our players know how to play.”
“We have quite a lot of Kiribati people who previously haven’t had the pathway to play rugby. Our program only started in the last couple years, but we’re building the comradeship and the family atmosphere which is really so amazing.”
“Our goal is to be right back here, in Brisbane, back where it started in 10 years’ time as a wildcard for the Olympics.”
Making the Olympics only a decade after forming a rugby program is certainly ambitious, but if Kiribati have showed us anything so far, they’ve proved that they are a team with an unrivalled determination and commitment to their program, and that’s a combination that can take them anywhere.