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Remembering Rabeni: Tribute to Seru

Geordan Murphy, the current Tigers head coach, is joined by fellow former team mates of Seru Rabeni, Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi, as well as Leicester legend Dusty Hare, who was the club's Chief Scout during the Fiji international's five seasons in the East Midlands, at Oval Park on the first day back at training after the Christmas break to remember their former colleague and friend.

Seru Rabeni would have been 40 today.

Seems crazy, right? Just 40 years old.

Born in 1978, the same year as Tigers head coach Geordan Murphy, the Fijian spent five seasons at Welford Road and quickly became a favourite among fans and team mates for his tireless efforts on the pitch and energetic, positive influence off it.

A powerful, entertaining and exciting player to watch, Rabeni wreaked havoc on opposition sides in the midfield and on the wings for Leicester in his time at Tigers and on 39 occasions for Fiji, none more memorable than his incredible performance in the historic win over Wales at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

"He was just such a great guy to be with, wherever you were."

Once he retired he qualified as a teacher and spent the majority of his time giving back to his native Fiji and working towards alleviating poverty on his home island of Vanua Levu.

However, tragedy struck in March 2016 as the rugby world was shocked when news broke that Rabeni had passed away, aged just 37.

The ever present smile of Seru would be seen no more.

His infectious, positive impact over those in his presence was taken far, far too soon.

"He would walk in to a room and brighten it up, straight away with his smile and his laughter," says Ben Youngs.

A common theme for anybody recalling tales of their time with him was the wide grin of the Pacific Islander, with former team mate and now Tigers head coach Geordan Murphy adding: "He was a funny, funny man and always happy, always smiling."

"His personality off the pitch was the way he played on it, always smiling and giving everything he had for his team mates."

One man his influence remains with still to this day is Manu Tuilagi, who was a member of the Tigers Academy during Rabeni's days in Leicester and says he looked up to Seru when making his way through the ranks.

"I definitely tried to learn from him, he had it all and I looked up to him," Tuilagi says.

"He had the feet, the power, the skills, he just had it all."

In addition to the grin he had plastered across his face from sunrise to sunset, Rabeni's on-field efforts are what those who played and trained alongside him remember as being his biggest asset.

"His personality off the pitch was the way he played on it, always smiling and giving everything he had for his team mates," says Youngs.

Dusty Hare, a Tiger through and through, says it was more than just the effort he put in but also the way he took to the culture of the club while in Leicester that made him special.

"He just gave it his all on the pitch and I think that's why the supporters and his team mates loved him so much, because he gave it all for Tigers," said Hare.

"Any player, local or from abroad, who gets involved with what the Tigers DNA is going to be a favourite of the fans and among their team mates, which Seru did.

"He gave everything to and for the club while he was here."

His Fijian accent would echo throughout the Welford Road stands, especially when he was on the wing, and - according to Murphy - there no phrase more commonly used by Rabeni than the four word, straight to the point one he would repeat over and over and over again.

"I don't think there wasn't a game that he was on the wing and I was at fullback when he wouldn't have spent most of the game saying 'give me the ball, give me the ball' anytime I caught it," Murphy says with a smile.

"That's all he ever said on the pitch!" adds Tuilagi, laughing after recalling the Rabeni phrase.

"He would just yell 'give me the ball' about five or six times at once on the pitch."

Rabeni moved to Leeds Carnegie for a season after his time in Leicester before finishing his career in France, where he played for three years, at the end of the 2013 season and, looking back, Tuilagi didn't hesitate when asked if the Fijian ended his playing days with "legend" status.

"Of course, he was a legend," says Tuilagi.

"He was such a legend.

"His feet were amazing, it was crazy what he could do and how he could step someone in no space at all and he was so hard.

"People who watched him will know and remember how hard he was," added the England and British Lions back.

However, for all the skill and talent, it is Seru 'the person' that is missed more than 'the player' so many enjoyed seeing in action.

Not a single negative word can be said about him, with traits many could only dream of being described with being used over and over again when looking back on Rabeni's life.

"He was very humble, very respectful and so, so funny," Tuilagi says, followed by a deep breath, before adding: "Just so, so funny."

"He was just such a great guy to be with, wherever you were," adds Hare.

"That was Seru."

So it seems.

Rest in peace, Seru Rabeni.