As Fiji prepare for Saturday’s all-important Rugby World Cup 2015 Oceania qualifier against the Cook Islands Total Rugby catches up with one of the Island nation’s most famous players, Nicky Little, to hear about his new career in coaching and to look back on events in France 2007 when Fiji shocked the rugby world.
As a 71-cap Fiji international, New Zealand-born Nicky Little appeared in four Rugby World Cups and his tally of 125 points puts him eighth on the competition’s all-time list. Eighteen of those points came in Fiji’s famous 38-34 win over Wales at RWC 2007, when prop Graham Dewes crashed over late on to put the Islanders through to their first quarter-final for 20 years.
Little recalled: “At half-time, when we were four tries up, we looked at each other and thought, ‘what’s happened, man’? “Half of us were thinking that they (Wales) were going to be angry and the other half were like, ‘woo-hoo’ we have got this. Sure enough, they came back and scored four tries.”
Trailing by three points with a minute to go Fiji kept their composure to score the crucial try, although, as fly half Little points out, it could have been him, not Dewes, who was the match-winning hero.
“We called that guy (Dewes) the Dragon killer,” laughs Little. “I was gutted because I was out in the open in the left corner and wanted the ball to be passed to me so I could show the pace I had. But everyone just looked at me and thought, oh, okay, we better maul it up then! In the end we got there, it was a bit of an ugly try.”
While not being as fleet-footed as his Uncle, All Black great Walter Little, as well as possessing a prolific boot Nicky knew how to control a game better than most in his playing days and brought the best out of the talented runners around him through his excellent distribution skills.
Canterbury, England is currently home to the well-travelled fly half, who played professionally for 12 different clubs in eight countries and is now Rugby Master at Simon Langton Grammar School.
And if there is one lesson he would pass on to his eager and respectful pupils it is to ‘be your own man’ and not copy anyone else – even heroes like his Uncle. “I wanted to be like him, of course, because I wanted to do everything he did except he was 5’2 and I was nearly 6 foot,” Little admitted. “When I tried to imitate his running (style) people were thinking what is this tall guy trying to run around like a mouse for?”
Little’s coaching experience has not been limited to the English school system though. He also took on a role with the Fiji national team last year when they won the Pacific Nations Cup. “I was really proud of myself when the boys started to play the way that I wanted them to,” he said. “The other teams couldn’t combat it because it was relentless the way I asked them to play, with little groups here and little groups there.
“I’m not your Level 5 coach on paper but I sort of know people and I know how a team works.”