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Rugby participation in Nauru on the rise

Thu, 16/09/2021, 2:46 am
Oceania Rugby
by Oceania Rugby
Nauru is using Beach Rugby to introduce the game to first time players
Nauru is using Beach Rugby to introduce the game to first time players

Jone Caginilotu hadn't even landed in Nauru when he quickly realised the enormity of the job he faced as the country's operation manager in charge of rugby union.

As his plane taxied into the tiny island nation's only runway, Fiji-born Caginilotu caught a glimpse of a bunch of footballers below.

"I had a window seat and I could see the oval from the sky prior to landing," he recalled. 

"They had the AFL posts up and there were players all over the ground training for the new season.

"I didn't see any sign of rugby. I knew we had a big challenge ahead of us."

It was a challenge Caginilotu was up for.

Over the next four months, the former semi-professional player and his passionate team of trained volunteers launched and ran the Get Into Rugby program (GIR), a scheme aimed at introducing the code to first-time players.

"I am so used to people wanting to play the game but here you have to sell the idea," Caginilotu said from his headquarters in Nauru.

"AFL is quite popular and it’s hard to get the fully grown players to switch to rugby.

"We wanted to reach out to those who hadn’t tried the sport."

The first step was to get permission from the Nauru government to spread the word – and not just the word according to the rugby gospel.

"We had to seek approval from the ministry to go into schools and one of our selling pitches is we'd be teaching values incorporated in our rugby drills," Caginilotu explained.

"Things like respect, solidarity, discipline, integrity, passion and gender equality were as important as teaching the rugby skills.

"We started off with one school and then had interest from another school and another reached out from there."

There was just one non-negotiable.

"We said you won’t be able to play unless you provide a female team or make up a mixed team if you don’t have the numbers," Caginilotu revealed.

Numbers – both male and female – haven't been a problem.

Caginilotu estimates the GIR program has grown from 50 participants to around 300 during 2021.

Nauru Rugby Union has also partnered with the Nauru Sports Department, Oceania Rugby and Rugby Australiaas a part of the Nauru Rugby Inclusion Impact Program. The program includes training teachers and volunteers to deliver Get into Rugby in schools, running quality Get into Rugby and Sevens Festivals and developing leaders across coaching officiating and administration.

The program is funded by the Australian government's sport for development scheme, Team Up, which is supporting sporting programs and athletes throughout the Pacific.

There is a particular emphasis on high-quality growth and inclusion of women and girls in all aspects of rugby union.

"Our main role is to increase the participation in the sport so we started with skills and modified games and built up to competitive games from there," Caginilotu continued.

"We had to modify our games to suit their development and concentrated on physical literacy to understand all the different movements.

"You can see the improvement. It has all been very positive.

"We are very grateful for the sports department here and are feeling the love from Oceania Rugby. If it wasn't for them we would be stuck."

This success achieved by Caginilotu and his team of dedicated volunteers saw Nauru Rugby named as the Oceania Rugby Get into Rugby Spotlight Union during June and July.

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