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Niki Goneva: All of Fiji will be watching us

Published 17/09/2015

Leicester centre Vereniki Goneva says the Fiji nation will come to a halt to watch the World Cup opener against England
Leicester centre Vereniki Goneva says the Fiji nation will come to a halt to watch the World Cup opener against England

Niki Goneva insists Fiji will draw on their spiritual strength when their "small island" turns its collective gaze to Twickenham for the biggest match in the nation's rugby history.

England await in Friday night's curtain raiser for the 2015 World Cup with the hosts installed as 1/33 favourites to sound a triumphant note when they open an epic Pool A that also includes Wales and Australia.

But Fiji are intent on reaching the quarter-finals themselves and are widely acknowledged to have the capacity to upset the tier one heavyweights, a feat they managed eight years ago when they sent the Welsh spinning out of the tournament.

It will be early morning in the Pacific as the entire Fiji nation comes to a halt to watch Goneva and his team-mates attempt to stun the rugby world.

"Everybody will be watching this game back home. Families and loved ones will come together to watch us," said Goneva, the Aviva Premiership's leading try-scorer with Leicester for the 2013-14 season.

"They will be looking forward to it. It will be early in the morning.They will be watching the game before breakfast.

"This match means a lot. We know that Fiji is a small island and it means a lot to the boys. It's a big task in front of us.

"It's not easy and we are playing for everybody back home, our family and our small island. Mentally, spiritually and physically we are strong."

Fiji, who will wear their traditional white strip with England clad in their red change kit, have arrived on these shores after a three-month camp that is unprecedented for a team accustomed to being cobbled together a week before an international match.

The sevens specialists are among the most naturally gifted players in the game and their head coach John McKee, a New Zealander, has sought to shape them into a more rounded Test side by introducing defensive structure and drilling the set-piece, which have been weaknesses in the past and can still be exposed by top opposition.

Apart from outrageous footwork, cute running lines, power and pace, McKee insists they have another strength that is not always so well recognised.

"It would be pretty euphoric back in Fiji if we did manage to get a win on Friday. We see what happens with the sevens when they win!" McKee said.

"The people are so passionate about the game that they dearly want their national team to do well. And they always believe their national team can beat who they're playing.

"It's not so much that people in Fiji have more pride in their national team, more that everyone talks about the team and I think it also comes a little more naturally for the Pacific Island players.

"It's interesting, it's the societal traditions they have, whereas western society has become very individualistic.

"Fijian society is very much based on where they come from and the family values. In terms of team building, it's very easy to build that unity.

"I have had experience in other professional teams where a lot of time can be spent on team building as the players have a very individualistic outlook.

"The payments to represent Fiji are very small compared to representing England, Australia, New Zealand or the other major nations.

"If it comes down to a financial decision then perhaps the player wouldn't represent Fiji, but that's not a motivator for them."

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