WELLINGTON, New Zealand, July 19 – The Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) has shied away from including an army officer in its team to play the All Blacks this Friday, avoiding a confrontation with New Zealand authorities.
The FRU last week named Leone Nakarawa, a 23-year-old soldier, in its 35-member squad for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand starting in September, despite Wellington’s long-standing ban on Fijian soldiers entering the country.
New Zealand barred Fijians with military or government ties as part of sanctions imposed following the 2006 coup when military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama seized control of the Pacific nation.
The issue threatened to overshadow Friday’s one-off friendly between Fiji and the All Blacks in Dunedin, with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully making it clear Nakarawa would be refused entry if he was named in the team.
The FRU heeded the warning and did not include the 198 centimetre (6ft 5in) 117 kilogramme (258 pound) lock in the team unveiled late Monday for the Dunedin Test.
Wellington has repeatedly said the ban will remain until there is evidence of substantial progress toward the return of democracy in Fiji and it applies to the World Cup, which New Zealand hosts from September 9-October 23.
Fiji team to play New Zealand in a one-off international in Dunedin on Friday:
Iliesa Keresoni, Vereniki Goneva, Albert Vulivuli, Ravai Fatiaki, Napolioni Nalaga; Seremaia Bai, Vitori Buatava; Sakiusa Matadigo, Akapusi Qera, Dominiko Waqaniburotu (captain); Sekonaia Kalou, Ifereimi Rawaqa; Deacon Manu, Sunia Koto, Campese Ma’afu
Replacements: Netani Talei, Timoci Nagusa, Metuisela Talebula, Taniela Rawaqa, Nemia Ranuku, Malakai Ravulo, Rupeni Nasiga, Viliame Veikoso, Setefano Samoca.