A group of Merritt girls have rugby on the brain and for once they weren’t alone.

It took a couple of years of planning and a trip to the South Pacific for the Merritt Secondary School girls’ rugby team to experience Fiji, a country with more people playing rugby per capita than any other, but it was an experience they won’t soon forget.

Forty-eight people, including rugby players, parents and coaches spent their Spring Break exploring the beautiful island nation where restaurant TV’s broadcast rugby games and billboards advertise rugby teams.

Of course, part of the experience included playing some rugby themselves.

The MSS girls played their first exhibition match the Saturday they arrived and Jess Sulz said with the shock of the humidity and some nerves they got a a pretty good beating. However, she said by the second match against the same team they had improved.

“We played so much better because we were adjusted to the heat,” said Sulz adding how much fun it was to meet other girls who were so passionate about rugby.

“We played extremely well during the second game and didn’t need to mix it up as we were up to their level for sure,” said head coach Sue Kabatoff.

The final score was 12-0, but Kabatoff said the MSS girls were in the other team’s end most of the game. “My forward pack really excelled that game and we moved the ball in close contact extremely well.”

In addition to the exhibition games, the team participated in daily training sessions, met a Samoan team from the Digicel Cup series (Fiji’s national provincial championship), had a lesson on the Fijian haka and learned about the true love of the game from the players, said Kabatoff.

“We got to see a different style of rugby,” said Brittany Brabant, who has played rugby at MSS for four years. “There they play for fun so much that it just comes naturally to them.”

Sulz was also impressed by the way rugby appeared to come naturally to the Fijians.

“When they passed their motions were very fluid. Sometimes we’re not relaxed enough, but if we can be relaxed and have fun, our season will be so much better.”

Though rugby was the focus of the trip, the group also managed to experience the beauty and culture of Fiji as well. Snorkelling, hiking and beach volleyball were just a few things on the agenda besides participating in a traditional ceremony in a rural village, learning about the education and social system and donating items to a single mothers’ group.

For Sulz, it was getting to know the Fijians themselves that made the trip.

“The best thing to me was seeing the people standing on the corner waving to us as we drove by,” she said. “It was so cool to have people so excited to see foreigners.”

Brabant was also touched by the warm welcome they received.

“We’d go somewhere and the people would sing us a welcome song and when we left they’d sing a farewell song,” she said. “Even though they don’t have a lot of money, they’re still really happy. It was good for us to experience that.”

Now, fuelled by their Fiji experience, Kabatoff and the team are hoping for a good season.

“We have a really great group of girls and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” said Kabatoff. “The trip was a great kick start to our season and I look forward to the next month of rugby with them.”