He was a cult hero in Australia for the Brumbies, Reds and Wallabies during a career which spanned nearly two decades and also took in stints in Japan and France, but that is nothing compared to how much he is revered in his native Fiji.
Back in his homeland this week for the Classic Wallabies tour of the country, which will also include a match against the Fiji Legends as a curtain raiser for the National Rugby Championship (NRC) match between the Fiji Drua and Melbourne Rising on Saturday, Samo’s having a great time spreading the Rugby gospel and engaging with the community and he’s being mobbed everywhere he goes.
On Thursday, he was part of a group alongside Patrick Phibbs, James Holbeck and Beau Robinson who visited Sigatoka Hospital for a tour of the facilities and to spread some cheer among the men, women and children who are currently patients. The facilities have recently been upgraded significantly, thanks in kind to donations raised by Classic Wallabies sponsor Shangri-La Yanuca Island.
“It’s awesome to come here and visit the hospital, and look through the facilities,” Samo said. “It has been a while since the last time I have been to a hospital in Fiji and it has changed a lot from back then until now, but they’re doing a lot of great things here to help all the local people who are unwell or injured. It’s great to have the chance to meet the staff who work here and they were really proud to show us through, which is exciting.”
The group, which also includes fellow Fijian Wallaby stars Lote Tuqiri and Samu Kerevi, have also conducted drills with school children at Cuvu College in recent days; the school where All Black star Waisake Naholo was educated.
“The clinics were really fun, and it was so enjoyable seeing these kids who were seven or eight years old and the way that they played; it was incredible, actually,” Samo said. “They really enjoyed having the Classic Wallabies here to play some footy with them and chat to them about their lives.
“Fiji is a country where everybody loves their sport and everybody watches Rugby on TV, but they haven’t had much of a chance to see Wallabies players in real life. They recognise all of the Classic Wallabies and are excited to see us walking around.
"It’s so good to see that they do love their Rugby and you can see the big smiles on their face when they meet us for the first time and get to have a photo with us and shake our hand. It’s really humbling, to see the happiness they get from finally getting to talk to somebody who they’ve never seen before in person.
“It’s a very important thing back here to give what you can to those who haven’t got as much as we do. To help people and put a smile on their face is great to see, and it’s great to give all of the kids and even a few of the adults the Classic Wallaby t-shirts; it’s something small for us, but it means a lot to them.”
There’s no denying that this country is Wallaby-mad, and Samo would love to see Australia play a Test match here.
“I would definitely love the Wallabies to play in Fiji, or ever for an Australian Super Rugby team to come over and play a fixture here.
"Most people in Fiji love both the Wallabies and the All Blacks, but when the All Blacks play the Wallabies they go for Australia. Rugby means so much here in Fiji, and there has been so many Fijian Wallabies now, that people would definitely go and support it if they could make it happen.”
As for now, focus is about the game this weekend as Samo and his teammates make the most of a tour which is not only about giving back to the community, but also looking out for each by getting around as a group and touring as a team once again; with a slight difference, this time.
“The Classic Wallabies is a great program which allows us to re-connect with our mates and travel together and on this occasion, the Shangri-La has extended the welcome to our families so I have been able to bring my wife for our first holiday without the kids in a long time. It’s a real blessing to be here to spend time with her, and with all of my former teammates and opponents in the Classic Wallabies.
“It’s going to be great playing again on Saturday, and our opponents are some of the legends of Rugby Sevens who can still do incredible things on the field. This will be the second time we play them and hopefully we can play a little better than we did last year, but it was a sold-out stadium in Suva last year and we’re hoping it will be the same again. They’re absolute freaks but it’s a great experience to get to play against them.”