Brumbies winger Henry Speight will make history this weekend, when he becomes the first Fijian to reach 100 Super Rugby caps in the competition’s history.
It’s a remarkable achievement for the electric outside back, who made his first appearance for the Brumbies back in 2011 against the Chiefs. Opposing him that day were Liam Messam, Mils Muliana and Tana Umaga, who are all amongst over 20 players with Pasifika backgrounds to reach 100 Super Rugby caps, however Henry’s countrymen are not represented on that list until now, with Joe Rococoko (96) and Sitiveni Sivivatu (89) the closest.
Henry would have gotten there a lot quicker if it weren’t for injuries, with his 2014 and 2016 seasons particularly affected as well as missing two matches this year, but there is a silver lining in that; it means his compatriot Isireli (Isi) Naisarani gets to share the occasion with him, after only joining the Brumbies this year.
Naisarani, who made history when he won the 20217 RUPA Medal for Excellence, moved to Canberra following the exclusion of the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition. Speaking to RUPA about Henry, Isi was quite emphatic in pointing out that playing alongside Henry and Tevita Kuridrani was the driving factor in his choice to sign a contract with the Brumbies.
“When it was announced that the Western Force wouldn’t be in Super Rugby this year, I did everything I could to come to the Brumbies,” Naisarani told RUPA.
“I knew that the Brumbies have a good Rugby program, good coaching staff and a good culture, but I especially wanted to be at the same team as the other Fijian boys.
“I signed with the Brumbies because I wanted to train alongside Henry and Tevita every day and play with them; that was the main reason.”
Naisarani’s career has followed a similar path to Henry’s thus far; born and raised in Fiji, but with a goal of playing Rugby for the Wallabies. Henry’s also included a stint in New Zealand at high school and playing for Waikato at a provincial level, only qualifying for his Wallaby debut in 2014, while Isi is waiting until March 2019 to be eligible.
Despite opting to represent Australia, Speight remains a hero in Fiji and Isi remembers him and Kuridrani visiting while he was still a schoolboy.
“Henry, Tevita and Samu Kerevi; they are all legends in Fiji!
“I remember when Henry and Tevita came to visit Fiji for their Christmas break after a Wallabies’ tour, and I saw all over Facebook that everybody was taking photos with them and everybody just wanted to be around them. They are superstars in Fiji!
“When I first moved to Australia, it was after watching a lot of Super Rugby back in Fiji. I especially loved watching my Fijian brothers play; guys like him, Samu and Tevita inspired me to play like them.
“Having him and Tevita always boosts my performance as I wanted to be like them and represent the Wallabies one day, and Henry is so highly respected back home and it is people like him who have paved the way for guys like me in this sport.
“I just keep working hard every day and I am a step closer to my dream of playing for the Wallabies, and hopefully next year I can have a crack at that level – that’s my main goal, to be like my Fijian brothers and wear the gold jersey.”
Off the field, Henry is hugely respected in Canberra by his teammates and the community alike.
“Henry is an awesome all-round person,” Isi says. He’s a very funny guy and so friendly. He shows a lot of love, a lot of kindness, and that’s the way he is with anybody who he meets.
“He likes to play the guitar and sing Fijian songs, and we usually have a kava ceremony every couple of weeks or after any games. We sometimes get to have ceremonies with Fijian players from the other teams as well, we’ll go to their hotel and catch up with them too. We haven’t done a kava ceremony with the whole team yet, but we’d love to do that one day for sure.
“He also does a lot of charity work as well, and a lot to promote the Brumbies in the community – all the fans in Canberra really love him.”
Naisarani is thrilled to be playing alongside Henry as he becomes the 53rd player to reach 100 Super Rugby caps for Australian teams this Sunday against the Jaguares.
“I’m happy for him, Henry is highly respected at the Brumbies and one of our leaders and his reputation speaks volumes for the kind of person that he is and that’s one thing I like about him.
“For me personally as a Fijian, I am incredibly proud of his achievement.
"It’s a huge milestone in his career and I wish him all the very best for this Saturday, and I want him to know that he inspired me to play Super Rugby like him, and that I want to play 100 caps like him as well. I love playing with him.”
Henry Speight Fact File:
Born: Suva, Fiji, 25th March 1988
Super Rugby Caps: 99 Caps (36 tries)
Wallaby Caps: 19 Caps (4 tries)
NRC Caps: 5 Caps (3 tries)
Australian Rugby Sevens Caps: 2 (Sydney, Dubai)
Pasifika Super Rugby Centurions:
Samoa: John Afoa, Christian Leali’ifano, Kevin Mealamu, Liam Messam, Mils Muliana, Ma’a Nonu, Rodney So’oialo, Tana Umaga, Victor Vito, Laurie Weeks
Tonga: Saia Fainga’a, Mark Gerrard, Doug Howlett, Sekope Kepu, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, George Smith
Niue: Piri Weepu
American Samoa: Jerome Kaino, Neemia Tialata
Papua New Guinea: Will Genia
RUPA have endeavoured to list every Super Rugby centurion with Pasifika heritage, however it is possible that the list is not exhaustive.
If somebody is missing or recorded incorrectly, we apologise; please contact us so that we can update this list.