Fiji played extremely well to score an unexpected 14-14 draw against Australia A in their last Pacific Nations Cup match at the National Stadium on Saturday.
The team played as a unit and restored hope for the 5000 plus spectators who witnessed a Fijian side attack the Australians from all side of the park and regained respect at least from their home crowd.
“I am very proud of the way they played and it augurs well for the coming Rugby World Cup,” said Fiji Rugby Union chief executive Ratu Timoci Tavanavanua after the match.
In unexpected fashion after three internationals of mundane and uninspiring rugby the home side ignited cheering and screaming from their supporters led by schoolchildren singing and cheering from the sidelines.
According to match captain Kele Leawere, the team sat down during the week analysed their previous games and decided to turn things around and play a game that would show the Fiji crowd what they were capable of.
“We sat down and thought about what we were doing, where we were and what we wanted to achieve,” Leawere said from the Fiji dressing room after the match.
From the cibi the Fijians impressed the crowd with their sharp and focused moves as a challenge for the Australians in a pre-game battle cry which usually was a lackluster affair in the previous matches.
From the Australian kickoff the Fijians stayed focused forming a ruck and setting up play for five eighth Waisea Luveniyali to kick for territory.
From the ensuing lineout, the Australians got a taste for the crunching tackles and tight defence Fiji was going to throw at them all afternoon.
The Australian practiced offensives were stunted and balls spilled forward when their interpassing reached their centres or wings all afternoon and the white net held.
Talking to the FRU officials at the after match function uncovered answers of all kinds from “they were playing out of their skins because it was their last chance to show” or “Fijians have a tendency to wait until the last minute and then dig deep”.
Whatever the reason, Fiji will be a force to be reckoned with in the September championship in France if they play like they did in every match they play there.
Australia A coach Laurie Fisher said Fiji played attacking rugby which they had expected but was quick to point out that the front eight would still need to work on their set piece which would be their Archilles heel in France.
Fiji Rugby Union board member Mosese Nailumu said later that the team had decided to put the past games behind them and play this last Pacific Nations Cup game as a last opportunity for the selectors to see what they were worth.
These are the highlights of the first half and because of some difficulty with my recorder will try and update you on the second half with some comments from the Fiji Rugby Unions officials in the know about where Fiji is headed.
The Flying Fijians look sharp right from the word go with sharp and focused cibi signaling their attempt to win back fan support in their last international before the Rugby World Cup in two months.
From the kickoff there is no muddling or running around aimlessly as the Fijians form a ruck from the Australian kickoff.
Semisi Naevo pushes Fiji forward another couple of metres before forming another ruck with new halfback Jone Daunivucu sending a long pass back to five eighth Waisea Luveniyali who attempts a line kick but Australia attack right back into Fijian territory led by left winger Latchie Turner.
Fijian defence makes intentions known with solid tackles on the Australian backline which results in a fumble for a Fijian scrum. 1st minute: Fijian first scrum collapses twice before Fiji is awarded a penalty.
Overeager number eight Sisa Koyamaibole overtaps the ball and has to run after it, collect it and form a ruck.
3rd minute: From 4th phase of Fijian attacks, a carrier is caught in the ruck with the ball and Austrlia awarded a penalty. Fullback Cameron Sherperd misses the shot at goal.
6th minute: Sheppard misses another penalty failing to comprehend the cross wind in the Laucala coast.
7th minute: Winger Filimone Bolavucu scores a try on the left flank after Fiji attacks from their own 22 metre and interpassing between backline sees fullback Norman Ligairi beat first line of defence and passes on to Bolavucu to beat three defenders before scoring. Luveniyali converts to put Fiji on the scoreboard 7-0.
9th minute: Fijians forwards display good forward power pushing forward about 20 metres from their 22 metre mixing rucks, mauls and pick and go with Australians showing vulnerability which is cheered and enjoyed by the crowd.
10th minute: Australians win a scrum at their 35 metre line and halfback Josh Valentine starts a forward movement passing to five eighth Barnes who cuts out to Junior Pelesasa before handing it back in to inside centre Ryan Cross before Fijian defence catches up with them.
11th minute: Fijian forwards cross into the Australian half with more pick and go and rucks from scrum.
15th minute: Australians win another scrum on their 22 metre line after Fiji contests every lose ball and contact encounters to push the green and gold further back.
16th minute: Fiji wins a scrappy lineout but is struggling with calls getting too complex. A lot of moving back and forth; and false leads before thow in. 17th minute: Exchange of kicks emanating from an Australian penalty at their 30 metre line is returned with a huge kick from Ligairi back to Australian 22 metre for Sheppard to kick it out about halfway line.
18th minute: Another Fiji scrappy win at the lineout and from ensuing ruck Fiji wins a penalty about 43 metres out. Luveniyali attempt at goal fails.
20th minute: Fiji forwards gain about 10 metres from the 22 metre drop goal before backline passing put Bolavucu in space to attack and gain another 20 metres before balls bouncing out of his hands from a tackle which referee Kiwi Chris Pollock rules knock on.
24rd minute: Inside centre Kameli Ratuvou is taken to the blood bin for a cut above his right eye and is replaced by Gabirieli Lovobalavu.
25th minute: Fiji shows character in defence after nine phases with wave after wave of attack is snuffed out by numbers on the left flank after two Australians are isolated and five Fijians turn the ball over into their possession.
26th minute: Fiji wins a put in for the scrum but quickly negated with a shove by the Australian forwards to win their first tighthead.
27th minute: Sheppard kicks first penalty after high tackle from Naevo who is warned by referee Pollock.
28th minute: Ratuvou returns to the field with a strap around his head.
29th minute: Naevo gets yellow card and Australians get a penalty from another high tackle on the Green and Gold five metre line. Australia to throw in at Fiji’s 25 metre line from the five eighth Berrick Barnes 30 metre line kick.
30th min: Australians gains another 10 metres from backline passing after winning their lineout cleanly but a forward pass sees Fiji awarded a scrum on Australian 15 metre line.
31st min: Fiji wins a quick scrum moving back but use their power and strength to claw back into the advantage line and move forward with schoolchildren leading the cheering for the white jerseyed islanders.
33nd minute: Fijian all out attack is foiled as momentum moves forward then backswards before ball is spilled forward for a scrum feed for the Australians on the 22 metre line.
35th minute: Australians awarded a penalty with referee Pollock spots an infringement in the ruck.
37th minute: Australians win the lineout and backline have a go but is stifled by solid Fijian defence.
40th minute: Exchange kicking from Australians to Fijian fullback Ligairi who sends it back to other half where Australian halfback Valentine putting it out for the break.
Half Time: Fiji 7 Australia A 3
An exciting aspect of the game has been the fired up attitude Fiji is playing, with a huge amount of energy from all the forwards contributing in the contact area and competing for every lose ball and every centimeter of the park.
Australia A looks startled and tentative with proceedings as confident Fijians throw themselves in the fray in every situation to win balls for the backs.
Another aspect of the game has been the adventurous and enterprising play Fiji is using to throw everything at the Australians.
This at times has bewildered the Aussies and has been quite a task for them to handle in defending desperately with white jerseys all over the park throwing the ball around and at pace attacking them.
All eight forwards are all playing above par and throwing themselves into every play to contest and fight for a centimeter.
Hooker Sunia Koto has better throw in skills with more options to take with Naevo and Leawere as other options instead of lone Rawaqa component.
But the signals are too complex to understand and need to be more simple and direct to use this asset as a 100 percent certainty of possession.
Five eighth Waisea Luveniyali continues to play with confidence showing tremendous depth and poise in mixing up attacks with kicks and quick distribution attacking the ball from Daunivucu with pace.
Winger Filimoni Bolavucu shows glimpses of his speed and acceleration beating three defenders to score on the left flank to open Fiji’s account.
Right winger Isoa Neivua continues to grow in stature and power running through and sometimes over the Australians to gain 10-15 metre bursts when given the opportunity.
Centre combination of Seru Rabeni and Kameli Ratuvou is not only solid in defence but can mix it up in attacks exposing the Australian vulnerability in defence when stretched by enterprising surprise attacks.
Norman Ligairi is a steadying force from the back with powerful kicks and solid running initiating the first attack that opened up the space for Bolavucu to score.
Halfback Jone Daunivucu has showed another level of his strength using sloppy defending by the Australian loose forwards to gain quick 5-10 metre attacks from the base of a weak scrum which allows for cleaner balls from second or third phase crossing the advantage line.
Caption: Australia prepares for a lineout take. Photo: GREG TAYLOR