16 Nov 2019

Sport: Fiji's Ma'afu ready to face countrymen

3:06 pm on 16 November 2019

Campese Ma'afu to face his countrymen for the first time when rugby's Barbarians take on the Flying Fijians this evening.

When retired Fiji international Campese Ma'afu accepted a late call-up to play for the Barbarians the veteran prop said yes without thinking twice.

Then he realised their first game would be against the Flying Fijians.

The Sydney-born front-rower announced his retirement from international rugby last month, having earned 61 test caps for Fiji since his test debut in 2009.

Campese Ma'afu.

Campese Ma'afu. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 34-year-old, who played in the last three Rugby World Cups, admits it will be an odd feeling to line up against his countrymen for the first time at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon local time.

"Ten years service with the national team is for me, it's the highlight of my career and it's the only team I've ever known and holds a special place in my heart. When the opportunity arose to play for the Barbarians I wasn't going to turn it down but I didn't realise it properly until after that they were playing against the Fijians (laughs) and I thought 'Oh!'," said Ma'afu.

"It's a bit overwhelming but at the same time it's an opportunity to play against them I've never had but exciting times ahead and see what happens on Saturday," he said.

Ma'afu, who played for Fiji against the Barbarians six years ago,will come off the bench against the Flying Fijians tonight and says he's just trying to soak in as much of the experience as possible.

"It's exactly what I expected it to be. I had a few mates and my brother and a few other people I know that's come through the Barbarians and they said the best part of the whole trip is the experience of actually playing for the Barbarians alongside the best of the best in the world," Ma'afu said.

Campese Ma'afu (bottom row, 5L) previously played for Fiji against the Barbarians in 2013.

Campese Ma'afu (bottom row, 5L) previously played for Fiji against the Barbarians in 2013. Photo: AFP

He's confessed to passing on some inside secrets from the Fijian camp to his Barbarians teammates but, with 11 new caps in the Fijian line-up, Ma'afu isn't expecting it will help them very much.

"They've only got four guys remaining from the World Cup squad that's come with them for this trip and a lot of local guys that have come through the ranks they've got their opportunity to stamp a mark this week," said Ma'afu.

"It's exciting to see what the future holds - the four year cycle is in play as it starts this week and it should be good to see what exciting young new prodigies they have moving forward for the next World Cup and the upcoming campaigns."

One player he does like the look of is fellow front-rower Tevita Ikanivere, who captained the Fiji Under 20s this year and is poised to make his Flying Fijians debut off the bench.

"He hasn't been capped yet but he captained the Under 20s to the last World Cup and he's a young kid I see has got a lot of potential in him and I think he's one of those guys that if you put him in a good environment he thrives straight off the bat," Ma'afu said.

Fiji Under 20s rugby captain Tevita Ikanivere.

Campese Ma'afu believes Tevita Ikanivere is destined for the top. Photo: Oceania Rugby

Campese Ma'afu's last contract with the Leicester Tigers expired in May but with most Northern Hemisphere based players already back on deck for their club sides following the World Cup, he says one plus of being temporarily unemployed is the chance to have a proper break.

"The beauty of it is that I get to spend a bit more time with them and decide what actual path is best for myself and my family as well. I think we've got to that part of my career where I have to think for everyone as well in my family," Ma'afu said.

"I've got to make the right decisions in terms of spending more time with them and not shifting them too much around because the young one's getting older now and we've just got to try and stay put in one place and it all comes down to what we decide at the end of the trip," he said.

The Barbarians will also face off against Brazil and Wales later this month.

The soon-to-be 35 year old Ma'afu is still weighing up his playing future and his says when his time in the famous Barbarians jersey is over he will sit down and decide on the next step with his wife and 10-year-old son who are currently in Australia, which the family still consider 'home'.

"I've got a few offers in the pipeline at the minute but nothing too solid yet," he said.

"I'm not too decisive yet of what my plans are but it's something I'll have to sit down with the family and see what they decide. We've been out of the country for 10 or 11 years now so I've still got to decide on that after the Baabaas trip so we will see how we go after that."

"There's one in England, there's one in France, there's one in America, potentially - coaching gigs as well. Not too sure what the future holds for me but it's something that I'll have to decide on pretty quick once the Baabaas trip is up," Ma'afu said.

Fiji's prop Campese Ma'afu eyes the tryline during his final test against Wales last month.

Fiji's prop Campese Ma'afu eyes the tryline during his final test against Wales last month. Photo: AFP