Fiji bringing a new edge to their traditional flair
With the game in the Pacific islands usually never too distant from crisis, at least Fiji have been making some progress towards attracting attention for the right reasons.
And though last weekend’s 19-10 defeat to Italy was hardly the way they wanted to start their three Test autumn tour — Canada are up next after this evening’s clash with Ireland — the Fijians have been putting together some decent enough results themselves of late.
Their current world ranking of ninth has been bolstered by the summer’s home victories over Scotland and Italy, and coach John McKee is reasonably confident that positive moves can be made on this tour towards early preparation for the islanders’ World Cup pool, which pits them up against the Wallabies, Wales and Georgia when they get to Japan in 2019.
With only one pool win to their name at the last World Cup, and that coming against Uruguay, the plan is obviously all about improving on that showing even though the task does look rather daunting.
Still, the notion is that Fiji are building instead of tottering and, though today’s Test with Ireland is not thought likely to bring about a first ever victory for the islanders, they have picked a strong team which could cause some trouble for a pretty experimental outfit being put out by Joe Schmidt.
Of course, getting the Test team to gel is rarely entirely straightforward with so many leading players based overseas — France being the main attraction for leading players Leone Nakarawa, former Ulster winger Timoci Nagusa and star turn Nemani Nadolo who all tog out today — while there is always the added attraction of their success at Sevens which has
been further enhanced by Fiji winning gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
It was hardly surprising then that the training camp for this tour was in Toulouse prior to last weekend’s opener with Italy and that next weekend’s closing game with Canada is also due to be held back in France at Narbonne.
That game with the Canadians is Fiji’s banker, and one they must win in order to salvage anything from the autumn window, though if they can get the mighty Nadolo and Nakarawa running hard today then it could yet be game on against Schmidt’s men.