Fiji's coach was forced to leave Wales 'unhappy' and went on to shake the rugby world 6 days ago

Simon Raiwalui was once a happy resident in Wales, until he was essentially kicked out

Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui

Simon Raiwalui might just be the star of this Rugby World Cup so far. After his nation almost completed a stunning comeback victory against Wales on the opening weekend of the tournament, the Fiji coach then masterminded his country's third ever win against Australia in a 22-15 victory.

Those two performances came on the back of a win against England at Twickenham just a few weeks ago. And with Fiji set to have a big say on Wales' chances of progressing to the quarter finals, it's worth remembering that Raiwalui was once a happy resident here, until he was essentially kicked out.

The turn of the century, just before the advent of regional rugby, was a great time to be involved with Newport RFC.

Then-chairman Tony Brown, who is sadly no longer with us, set out to turn the Black & Ambers into a genuine force in European rugby.

Brown attracted a plethora of top-class overseas signings like Springboks legends Gary Teichmann and Percy Montgomery, along with former All Blacks scrum-half Ofisa Tonu and Canada prop Rod Snow..

But arguably his most influential recruit was Fijian lock Simon Raiwalui, who earned cult-hero status during his four years at Rodney Parade where he went on to captain the side even captaining them.

"I moved up to play in Europe in 1997 to play for Sale for the first two years," he told WalesOnline. "I was coming to the end of my contract, and one of my best mates Shane Howarth had joined Newport so that was a big factor in me joining.

"Tony Brown has just come in as a benefactor, and he wanted to move the club in a new direction with some big foreign signings. I came down to Newport to have a look and straight away I could tell it was a rugby town.

Raiwalui said winning the Welsh Cup at the Millennium Stadium against Neath was "one of the best moments of my entire career."

He said: "I lived in Basseleg Road in Newport. We also lived in the old house opposite the back gate of Rodney Parade.

"I recently went to visit Semi Radradra at Bristol and decided to go and visit Newport. Even all these years later people were still coming up to talk to me as I walked around town."

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and Raiwalui was forced to leave the club he loved so dearly when Welsh rugby decided to rip up the old club system. Newport were about to become the Newport Gwent Dragons, and much to his frustration, there was to be no place for him in the regional game.

"I was captain at the time, my family were happy in Newport, and my son even got born at the Gwent," he said.

"Welsh rugby went regional that year. The guys who were in contract were kept, but the overseas guys who were out of contract were moved on. I understand what they were doing and what they were trying to achieve but I was unhappy to leave. I wanted to stay because I loved the club and the city so much as did my family.

"I know Newport still play in the Welsh Premiership but I miss Newport not playing in the European Cup. I wish they were back playing at the sort of level. I follow the Dragons and I want them to win but it's still not Newport. When I played we were Newport, the Black & Ambers.

"It's been an interesting period for Welsh rugby, and hopefully they can get things back on track because they are such a proud nation. I'm biased so I'd like them to be called Newport. The history of the club is what was sold to me when I was thinking of joining."

To his credit, 48-year-old Raiwalui hasn't done badly since leaving Wales, establishing himself as a well-respected coach having enjoyed successful stints with Stade Francais, Racing 92 and Australia.

And now he's got everyone's attention as head coach of Fiji.

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