Fit and Flying: Manasa Mataele ready for Fiji debut

Crusaders winger Manasa Mataele is feeling fit and ready after accepting a call-up to play for the Flying Fijians.

The Suva-born winger was first approached by Fiji ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and then prior to their European tour last year.

But after two years of injury struggles, which included tearing his right ACL and a pectoral tear in 2020, Mataele said he wanted to be back to his best before taking on the challenge.

"For me personally I want to get into the groove of things where I'm playing good rugby, I'm playing rugby on back to back weeks and gaining that confidence back and then get to that international stage," he said.

"It was just a massive jump as well from coming back from injury...but being injured and months and months out of rugby to jump straight into internationals was just a massive jump."

Now, the 24-year-old is lean, strong and raring to go.

"I guess for me, I've just come back from injury at the end of last year to having a good season this year, and I felt like this is the right was a perfect time to make the decision as well leading up to the World Cup, for me, my partner and my family as a whole, so this is perfect timing really."

Mataele has never met Flying Fijians coach Vern Cotter but said he was the type of coach he wanted to play under.

"We talked about his interest in me being part of the team and the focus in the next couple of years...he was very passionate about coaching and very passionate about Fiji as a whole as well, Fiji rugby, and a means to new heights."

"For me he didn't have to say it, but I feel like if he's that passionate, that's the type of person that you know, I want to play for as well."

And whilst he might have a Super Rugby pedigree, Mataele is under no illusion the contest for positions out wide will be fierce.

"If there's a position where Fijians always push through, it's definitely the wing. As talented as we are back home it's going to be a challenge trying to get that starting spot and what not but, for me, I'm kind of backing myself and I guess I'll see where that takes me."

Before pledging his allegiance to the Fijian squad, Mataele confided with some key people in life, including his parents, who had actually wanted their son to play for the All Black, like his uncle Seta Tamanivalu, when he left for Aotearoa six years ago.

"When I left Fiji for New Zealand mum was like do your best and see where that takes you...they were wanting me to play [for the] AB's, but I guess injury and other things got in the way and there's a lot of better players now."

"I sat down with them leading up to [making the decision] because they've been asking me and so I sat down with mum and dad and told them this is what I'm thinking of doing and they were really excited for me to represent my home country and to represent them and the wider family as well which is pretty cool."

Mataele also leaned on his Crusaders team mate, and new Manu Samoa captain, Michael Ala'alatoa, for advice.

"He was one person I talked to about it and he said it's an amazing and different feeling when you represent where you come from."

"Even though he was brought up in Sydney, Australia, he said to represent Samoa was probably one of the biggest accomplishments for him. That made me go wow you know, I'm sure it was a good feeling, so I want to do that as well."

"There's no better way to represent my country, my heritage and where I come from and to showcase my talent at the same time."

The Flying Fijians play the All Blacks in back to back tests next month, with the opening match in Dunedin on 10 July and the second a week later in Hamilton.

There's a chance Mataele could make his international debut opposite his Crusaders teammate and former schoolboy rival Sevu Reece.

"I played against his actually when I was in primary school and high school but I haven't played against him since I've been here - only in Mitre 10 Cup competitions," he recalled.

"But a few weeks ago actually it was pretty cool to start again with him on each side (for the Crusaders). It's one thing we've talked about but it will be quite funny if we go up against each other during the test as well."

Mataele is off contract at the Crusaders, with reports suggesting he's agreed a deal with the Western Force. But the Christchurch-based winger said he had not signed anything and is still weighing up his future, with the Crusaders, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua also potential options.

"There's a lot of offers out there and big decisions to make in the next couple of weeks for me especially, whether I need to stay or leave," he said.

"At the moment I haven't made any [decisions] yet. I was just taking each decision as it comes. First up, international (rugby), that's a big decision for me, and I guess the next one is whether I stay or leave really.

"'s definitely all on the table, it's just a matter of getting that sorted in the next couple of weeks."

Most of the Flying Fijians squad is still in managed quarantine in New Zealand, with the New Zealand and Australian based players to link up this week.