Rugby is the national sport of Fiji. Fijians love it as much as Americans love football and baseball. You cannot travel far on the small island without seeing some reference to the sport. Children and adults alike can be seen playing pick-up games on fields and schoolyards across the nation. During the Summer Olympics in Rio, my son became fascinated with watching Fiji play rugby. He wanted to go to Fiji to see a match in person. So, in June 2017, we traveled to the capital city of Suva to watch the Fiji national team play Scotland. It was an amazing experience, even though none of us knew anything about the sport. Not only did we learn a lot about the game during that trip, but we also learned some tips to make watching it in Fiji even better. Here are my tips for experiencing rugby in Fiji.
Fiji Time is a Real Thing
Everywhere you go in Fiji, you will hear locals refer to “Fiji time.” Basically, Fijians don’t get in a hurry about anything and don’t worry about the clock. I had no idea just how serious they were about this until we got to the rugby stadium.
I had ordered our tickets online and printed them at home. The tickets listed the game time as noon. We wanted to get there early so we could watch pregame warm-ups. We arrived at the stadium around 10:15. I asked if we could enter the stadium yet. The staff informed me that the game didn’t start until 2:30 and the gates would open at 12:30! When I showed them the time listed on the tickets, they said that it was because the tickets listed Australian time. This didn’t make a lot of sense, but it just goes to show how little Fijians pay attention to time.
If you will be going to a game in Fiji, I highly recommend calling ahead to ask about the actual start time of the game. Even if your tickets list a time, don’t trust that it is accurate.
Get There Early
Once you determine the actual start time of the match, get there at least an hour early. There are a couple reasons for this. First, the local crowd does arrive early. So, if you have general admission tickets, seating will be on a first come, first serve basis. So, by getting there early, you will ensure you will have the best choice of seats.
Secondly, getting there early will allow you to see all the official, and unofficial, pregame festivities. A military band performed before the game on the day we were there. This was pretty entertaining considering that they marched onto the field to perform their show while the teams were still in the midst of pregame warm-ups. The band didn’t seem to care, they marched right through the teams and did their thing! We were also very amused by the field crew who decided to wait until an hour before game time to paint the stripes on the field. This also occurred during team warm-ups! You just never know what you’re going to see!
Don’t Read the Small Print
This is my biggest regret about our Fijian rugby experience. Prior to the game, I read the small print on our tickets regarding the rules of the stadium. Among other things, it stated that no cameras of any kind, including phones with camera abilities were allowed inside the stadium. I thought this was very odd. But, I left both my phone and camera in the car because I didn’t want to chance having them taken away. Well, it turns out, I was the only person in the stadium to follow the no camera rule! Not only did most everyone have their phones, but several people had large DSLR cameras and were taking pictures all throughout the game! I was so disappointed!
So, take my advice: don’t bother reading the small print on the tickets. It doesn’t appear to be enforced. The Fijian people are very nice, so if you attempt to take something into the stadium that is prohibited, they will let you know at the gate. And, please take your camera with you when you go! I know I will be taking mine next time!
Splurge for Grandstand Seats
ANZ Stadium, the rugby stadium in Suva, Fiji, has three types of seating: grandstand, concrete bleachers, and grassy embankments. The grandstand seats are individual seats with backs and are, for the most part, covered. They sit on the home side of the field centered between the two endzones. The concrete bleachers are located on the opposite side of the field from the grandstand. They are basically bleachers made of concrete with no back supports and are uncovered. The grassy embankments are the grass-covered hills around either endzone. They stretch from the end of the grandstand to the end of the concrete bleachers.
Of these three choices, the grandstand seats are the most expensive. I recommend, if possible, splurging for grandstand seats. They are not that much more expensive, but will greatly enhance your experience. You will have much better views of the game because they are higher than the other two options. Additionally, you will be much more comfortable during the game due to having an actual seat. Plus, if it is raining like it was on the day we were there, it will be nice to have an awning overhead to keep you dry.
No Need to Eat Ahead of Time
We had tons of time to kill before the game, so we went and ate lunch prior to entering the stadium. However, there is no need to do this unless you just prefer to go to a restaurant. The concessions at the game are well stocked with lots of yummy options. You will also find several food vendors set up in the area between the gates and the grandstands. Hot dogs with all sorts of toppings seemed to be a popular choice. You will find most typical game day food available for purchase. And, unlike at games in the United States, the concession prices were very cheap! We bought bottled sodas for $1 dollar each. At a stadium in the USA, that same drink would have cost you $5 or more.
Face Paint and Noise Makers
I was very surprised by the face paint at the game. Lots of people showed up wearing face paint. I expected to see young kids and college students all painted up for the game. But at rugby games in Fiji, you will see small children, grandmas, and everyone in between with their faces painted. It was awesome to see that enthusiasm and spirit!
The presence of noise makers in the stadium also surprised me. These days, in the US, most stadiums won’t allow artificial noise makers. Yet, in Fiji, they were selling them right outside the entrance. Lots of people had horns, bells, and all kinds of noise makers to aid in their cheering.
I am so glad we watched our first rugby game in Fiji. It was an amazing experience! We began the game not knowing anything about the sport. By the end, we all learned a little and were bitten by the rugby bug. As soon as the game was over, Chris was planning on when and where we would go to see our next game. Boston began watching it on the television and playing pickup games with other kids at our resort. It is an exciting sport with passionate fans. I can see why it is the national sport of such a fun-loving country! If you ever travel to Fiji, take some time to go watch a rugby game there. You won’t regret it! Happy travels!