Akapusi Qera on returning to England and one last crack at World Cup

‘It is good to be back’: Akapusi Qera on returning to England at Hartpury RFC as the Fiji captain looks for one last crack at a fourth World Cup next year

  • Fiji flanker Akapusi Qera was a crowd favourite in seven years at Gloucester
  • He left Kingsholm in 2014 for spells at Toulouse, Montpellier and Agen
  • But now the veteran has returned to his ‘home form home’ of England

Remember Akapusi Qera?

The Fijian flanker, Shed favourite at Gloucester for seven years, a big man with a big smile that they call Q.

He left Kingsholm in 2014 for France, was an emergency loanee at Toulouse, then spent three years at Montpellier – winning the European Challenge Cup with World Cup winning coach Jake White – and next wound up at Agen.

Fijian flanker Akapusi Qera is back in England after seven years at Gloucester

Fijian flanker Akapusi Qera is back in England after seven years at Gloucester

The 34-year-old veteran and 65-capped Test captain is Hartpury RFC's latest signing

The 34-year-old veteran and 65-capped Test captain is Hartpury RFC’s latest signing

Now he is back at his ‘home from home’, looking for one last crack at a fourth World Cup with Fiji, by playing in the league where it all began for him in England over a decade ago.

Introducing Hartpury RFC’s latest signing – a 65-capped Test captain.

‘It is good to be back,’ Qera, 34, tells Sportsmail, a gold tooth shining out from his grin.

‘I thank God for giving me and my family another opportunity to come back to Gloucester. It is a unique place.’

He met his Fijian wife Phillipha here. She was in the Royal Navy when he played for Gloucester, who train at Hartpury College, and their four children live with grandparents in Stoke.

‘Before I left I told the people in Gloucester that this is my home from home, and one day I would come back,’ he adds.

‘I didn’t know it would be this soon. Maybe one day I will represent a Premiership team but my focus now is to play for Hartpury and developing these young boys.’

Qera is back at his 'home from home' as he looks for a last crack at the World Cup next year

Qera is back at his ‘home from home’ as he looks for a last crack at the World Cup next year

Japan 2019 will be the Fiji captain's fourth World Cup after his first in France in 2007

Japan 2019 will be the Fiji captain’s fourth World Cup after his first in France in 2007

Qera made his debut with the semi-professional Greene King IPA Championship side before Christmas, having been brought to the club by head coach Mark Cornwell who first plucked him from the Fiji U20s to then second-tier Pertemps Bees back in 2005.

AKAPUSI QERA 

Age: 34

Position: Flanker

Height: 6ft 4in

Weight:  17st 9lbs

He trained with a mix of students and college alumni for a few weeks, sorting out his visa, and now the flanker will now cap a whirlwind end to the year facing London Irish in the league on Friday with a goal for 2019 in mind.

‘I’d love to go to Japan with the Flying Fijians,’ he says citing national side’s nickname.

‘I believe I can be there. With this opportunity at Hartpury I have to control what I can, play well and keep fit.’

With that the 6ft 4in 17st 9lb gentle giant taps the table for good luck.

The former Fiji captain – who was part of the famous 38-34 win over Wales at his first World Cup in 2007 – has more on his mind than getting back in his national team, though.

But the 6ft 4in 17st 9lb gentle giant has more on his mind than getting back in his national team

But the 6ft 4in 17st 9lb gentle giant has more on his mind than getting back in his national team

He is fearful of the world's strongest nations poaching so many Pacific players from the islands

He is fearful of the world’s strongest nations poaching so many Pacific players from the islands

Born in the Lau Islands where he lived in the same house as more than 15 others he picked up rugby at school having been bored senseless by Saturday morning cricket games in the village.

QERA’S CAREER 

Gloucester 2007-2014 

Toulouse 2014 

Agen 2017-18 

Hartpury 2018-Present

Premiership games: 105

Tries: 21  

Last match December 22, 2013 v Worcester

Fiji: 65 caps

3 World Cups 

Debut v Samoa July 2005 

Last cap v Tonga Jun 2018

 

He always wanted to play for Fiji, but fears with nations now poaching so many Pacific players from the Islands, kids back home do not.

‘Every kid back on the Islands see Fijian boys playing for England, France, the All Blacks or Australia, and so boys at home say “I want to play for France one day, I want to play for the All Blacks one day,”‘ he says.

‘Fiji, Tonga or Samoa is the last option in their mind.

‘It’s hard to develop players when you can’t control the French and English scouts coming in, taking players out.’

He does not blame the likes of England’s Nathan Hughes and France’s Virimi Vakatawa though.

‘I’m happy for those boys,’ Qera says.

‘We get £800 a Test match, compared to £25,000 a Test match, which is what England get, it is a massive difference.

‘The players have to gamble whether to take up national duty or play for a European club.

After leaving Kingsholm in 2014 Qera wound up at at Toulouse, Montpellier and Agen

After leaving Kingsholm in 2014 Qera wound up at at Toulouse, Montpellier and Agen

‘World Rugby has come up with player passports and all these things to try and follow players, but it is not working.

‘You see the Japanese team with Tongans or Fijians in it. Players in the Islands are looking elsewhere for their family’s needs.

‘We can’t control it. Pacific Island players need the clubs – that is our bread and butter, we need to put food on the table.

FIJI AT WORLD CUP 

1987: Quarter-final (L v France) 

1991: Pool stage 

1999: Quarter-final (L v England) 

2003: Pool stage 

2007: Quarter-final (L v S Africa) 

2011: Pool stage 

2015: Pool stage 

‘If we could put together a team of the guys who play all around the world we would be unbeatable.’

A recent bid to establish a Super Rugby team on Islands was rejected, Clermont Auvergne have an academy set up in Fiji, in order to siphon off the best youngsters and bring them to France. Star winger Alivereti Raka will be the latest convert come the Six Nations.

From Bundee Aki to Taulupe Faletau to Samu Kerevi to Ben Te’o to Waisake Naholo – most Test teams have a Polynesian star. Rugby’s greatest gene pool is being so heavily drained.

But despite this haemorrhaging of players Fiji still produce, still stun. In the last two years they have beaten Scotland, Italy and France – in 2019 Wales and Australia are in their sights at the World Cup.

Be warned, they are coming.

‘We’ve been building a brotherhood team where we fight for each other, look after each other and play for it each other,’ says Qera whose last cap came in June.

Qera was part of Fiji's famous 38-34 win over Wales at his first World Cup in 2007

Qera was part of Fiji’s famous 38-34 win over Wales at his first World Cup in 2007

‘We played well against Australia, beat Scotland in 2017, beat Italy, with those wins people start to think ‘there is something going on’.

‘To end this year beating France – that is our base-mark right now.

‘Moving into the World Cup it needs to be even better. The boys will come in with it in the back of our mind ‘yeah, we can push some teams over’.’

After the incredible 21-14 France win in Paris came one of the moments of the year. The Flying Fijians, arms linked, looking skywards, singing a hymn in perfect harmony.

‘We have a devotion every day,’ says Qera.

‘We don’t have the technical bits and pieces other countries have, but one thing we do believe in is a God that can give us strength and give us power on the day.

‘We have faith in a God we do not see and faith in each other and that we will do the job.’

The hymn is called ‘We Have Overcome’. How wonderful it would be if in 2019 Fiji and other Pacific nations finally do.

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