Matawalu: Fiji will surprise people
Fiji star Nikola Matawalu believes the South Sea Islanders can make an impact at next year's World Cup.
Matawalu and company will find themselves in a so-called pool of death alongside host nation England, Australia and Wales, with Fiji expected to be battling alongside minnows Uruguay to avoid propping up the group.
But the Fijians, despite having prop Campese Ma'afu sent off after 53 minutes, ran Wales perilously close at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday before suffering a 17-13 defeat.
Glasgow scrum-half Matawalu proved a livewire presence throughout the game, while strong performances from the likes of centres Nemani Nadolo and Vereniki Goneva suggests Fiji are developing promisingly under coach John McKee.
Fiji's World Cup preparations will include a five-week training camp before the 2015 tournament, with an important competitive build-up seeing them contest the Pacific Nations Cup alongside Samoa, Tonga, Japan, the United States and Canada.
"We are in the pool of death with England, Wales, Australia and Uruguay, and that will be hard. It will be immense," Matawalu said.
"We come over here and we (often) play the next day. If we can have time, like a month, then we can make a difference in that pool.
"Everyone over in France in the Top 14 and in the (Aviva) Premiership and (Guinness) PRO12 can put their hands up. The squad is still open, so everyone will want to get in there.
"The World Cup is a different level, and any team can beat any team, so it is open."
Fiji knocked Wales out of the 2007 World Cup after they won a pulsating pool game 38-34 in Nantes, with Wales coach Gareth Jenkins losing his job barely 24 hours later.
And while Wales delivered a dire display in the countries' latest meeting, Fiji still caused them enough problems to suggest that their next encounter in just over 10 months' time could be similarly testing.
"We just could not give up until the 80 minutes," Matawalu added. "All the boys put their hands up because the game was not finished until the last whistle."
And McKee said: "We've been together for a short time, and by the Rugby World Cup this group will be stronger.
"The little things letting us down are our continuity, our connection and our defence sometimes. But that gets better and better the more time you're together.
"There are things we need to work on to really capitalise on opportunities against teams such as Wales.
"We are disappointed for losing. We came to try to win the game.
"We probably didn't impose ourselves as much as we would have liked to in the first-half. In the second-half, it was a tremendously gutsy performance by a team with 14 players for most of the half."