Australian winger Mark Nawaqanitawase’s name was on many lips after his eye-catching performance as the Wallabies beat Georgia on Saturday, even if the pronunciation of it (Na-wang-a-nee-ta-wa-say) is still a daunting prospect for many.
By Nick Mulvenney
SAINT-ETIENNE, France – Australia winger Mark Nawaqanitawase celebrated his 23rd birthday at a French primary school on Monday morning, the gaggle of children mobbing him a reflection of his growing profile after an outstanding World Cup opener.
Nawaqanitawase’s name was on many lips after his eye-catching performance as the Wallabies beat Georgia on Saturday, even if the pronunciation of it (Na-wang-a-nee-ta-wa-say) is still a daunting prospect for many.
Pacey, hungry for work and with a prodigious boot that he illustrated with an early 50-22, Nawaqanitawase scored one of Australia’s four tries in the comfortable 35-15 win at the Stade de France.
It is in the air that the tall outside back really catches the eye, however, offering a constant threat under the high ball that resembles that of former Wallaby Israel Folau.
Nawaqanitawase said he was not about to get carried away by the attention of French schoolchildren or rugby pundits alike.
“I’m really enjoying my footy. I’m in France playing footy, it’s pretty cool,” he told reporters after receiving a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday!” from the students of Ecole Elementaire Molina.
“I’m just trying to have fun and obviously win some games and stuff like that. Just trying to do me.”
Nawaqanitawase is a lock-in on the right wing for Australia’s second Pool C match against Fiji in St Etienne on Sunday, which will have a personal meaning for him and several other members of the team because of their Fijian heritage.
In fact, but for his decision to throw in his lot with Australia last year, Nawaqanitawase might be playing against the Wallabies in the white shirt of the Pacific island nation on Sunday.
“For a split second I was thinking of going down that path but I guess I’m grateful for how things have turned out,” he said.
“(Sunday) will be a special moment for myself and the family and it’ll be a very exciting match, I think.”
Nawaqanitawase made his Test debut against Italy in last November’s tour of Europe, scoring a brace against Pool C rivals Wales in his second Test.
His continued good form was one of the bright spots of Australia’s five-match losing streak this year, which they snapped against the Georgians at the weekend.
Having got that monkey off their back, Nawaqanitawase thought the youthful Wallabies squad would not change their approach too much for the Fiji match.
“We’ll want to tie them up and make sure that we’re connected because they’re going bring a lot of mystery, they can do anything out of nothing,” he said.
“(But) we’ve got to back ourselves in what we do. We’ve got things to improve on … but for the most part, we’re just worried about ourselves.”