Taranaki Fijian describes his pro career

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    26 Dec 2017     Getty Images

Along the way the No.8 has played 11 Tests for Italy but still retains a connection with his Fijian roots where he recalled growing up alongside such well-known Fijian stars as Sevens ace Waisale Serevi and fearsome three-quarter Marika Vunibaka.

Vunisa began his journey around the same time as team-mates Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Tevita Cavubati and Waisake Naholo, all accepting scholarships to New Zealand school Wanganui Collegiate.

In describing the life experienced by island players like him he told that it was a wrench leaving home.

"I was going to a foreign place where I didn't know anyone. I didn't have any family close by to support me if something went wrong. And, at 16, you really need support and guidance.

"I was lucky – we had a good crew, we went together and made our own family and looked after each other. We were pretty amazed by everything in New Zealand," he said.

"I knew [Wanganui Collegiate] was pretty posh when I walked in. I was looking at what those guys were wearing, thinking my mum and dad would never get me this.

"That was a driver for us to push on and be better – and hopefully be something that you dream of and want your parents to be proud of."

After school, Vunisa won a place in the Taranaki Academy while also working in a chicken processing plant and laying footpaths.

Work started at 4am with a 1pm finish which then allowed for Academy and club training before getting home around 8-9pm worn out.

"Working those kinds of jobs, it built me as a character and I'm grateful to have experienced that. When you go outside and see people doing roadworks or coming from factory work, they are never appreciated. You know what they're going through," he said.

Vunisa left Taranaki to play for Calvisano in Italy and then Zebre, and during those four years he qualified for the Italy team to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

He has been a big supporter of the Pacific Rugby Players' Welfare group which is looking to raise awareness and support for island players overseas.

One of the issues faced was the traditional approach to respect where players do as they are told and don't question things. He said overcoming that was a big problem because players had a voice and could use it. But there was also an awareness of their need to help families and those back at home.

"When we are out there playing, we are not just playing for ourselves, you are playing for everyone back home and that's always the pressure of being an island boy. That's what you've been taught – if you are doing well, you are accountable for your family," he said.

Having arrived in Glasgow via Saracens, Vunisa has been enjoying Rennie's approach both on and off the field where history lessons and visits to historic sites have helped instil aspects of Scottish history into foreign players' understanding of their environs.

"Dave and the coaches expect a lot of me – to be carrying the ball, to be physical. We've got a lot of workhorses in the forwards and they need some go-forward. That's where I come in.

"Now I know what being Scottish is, learning from those places we went. You really appreciate where you play for and what you do," he said.