On June 28, Fiji booked their place at Rugby World Cup 2015 with an emphatic 108-6 victory over the Cook Islands in Lautoka.
Fiji will now join England, Australia, Wales and the yet to be determined Playoff winner in Pool A. With all three of their confirmed pool phase opponents currently sitting in the top six of the IRB World Rankings, the Flying Fijians will no doubt be relishing the opportunity to pit themselves against some of the greatest sides in world Rugby.
While the road to RWC 2015 qualification may have started and ended with the Oceania 1 playoff against the Cook Islands, Fiji have put in some outstanding performances in recent months, including a 45-17 win over Tonga in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup on June 14. The Flying Fijians will now be looking to continue their rich vein of form into the build-up to next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The confirmed match schedule will see Fiji play in London, Cardiff and Milton Keynes and run out at two of the most iconic rugby stadiums in the world. We take a look at what lies in store for the South Pacific Islanders and profile some of their players to watch out at next year’s showcase event.
All eyes on the opener
It is hard to imagine a grander setting for Fiji’s first match of the Tournament. On September 18 next year, the eyes of the world will be on Fiji as they take on hosts England at Twickenham Stadium in the opening match of RWC 2015. It will be a tall order for the Fijians, who will be looking to kick-start the Tournament with an upset of colossal proportions in front of a sell-out crowd and a global TV audience in the hundreds of millions.
The two sides’ only Rugby World Cup encounter to date came at RWC 1999 in a quarter-final playoff at Twickenham Stadium, which England won 45-24. Although Fiji have lost all eight of their previous meetings with England, many members of their squad now play in top European leagues and will be more than familiar with the surroundings come the opening match of RWC 2015. Not least Vereniki Goneva who currently plays for Leicester Tigers and has already featured in Premiership Finals for his club at Twickenham.
Wallabies in Wales
After facing the hosts, Fiji will then head west to Cardiff to take on two times Rugby World Cup winners Australia at the Millennium Stadium. The only time these two sides have met before at a Rugby World Cup was in Montpellier at RWC 2007, a match which Australia won 55-12.
The Pacific Islanders have never beaten the Wallabies but they may be able to gain some insight from their links to the Australian team ahead of England 2015. Fijian prop Campese Ma’afu, named after legendary Australian winger David, was born in Sydney and his brother Salesi Ma’afu has previously represented the Wallabies on the international stage.
Fiji head coach John McKee may also prove useful to Fiji’s RWC 2015 campaign – the New Zealander has spent much of his career coaching in Australia, including a stint working for the Australian Rugby Union, and should be able to offer some insider knowledge to his team when they take on the mighty Wallabies on September 23 next year.
Fiji and Wales have a rich history at the Tournament, and when the two sides meet on October 1, 2015, it will be the third time in a row that they have been drawn in the same pool at a Rugby World Cup.
In Nantes at RWC 2007 the Flying Fijians pulled off a brilliant 38-34 win over their more highly ranked opponents to send Wales crashing out of the Tournament at the group stages. The victory propelled Fiji into the quarter-finals where they put in a brave performance against South Africa, but ultimately lost 37-20.
In 2010 Fiji again proved they could hold their own against the top sides in the world by holding Wales to a 16-16 draw in Cardiff. But Wales got their revenge at RWC 2011 by demolishing Fiji 66-0 in Hamilton to silence the ghosts of 2007.
Into the unknown
Fiji’s last pool game will take place at StadiumMK in Milton Keynes on October 6 against the Playoff winner. The final spot in Pool A will be awarded to the winner of the Repechage qualifying round involving Russia, Hong Kong, Uruguay and the runner up from Africa’s CAR Division 1A involving Kenya, Namibia, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Of the three known teams competing for the final RWC 2015 qualifying spot, Fiji have already faced and beaten both Uruguay and Hong Kong, but have yet to face Russia.
Players to watch out for
Vereniki Goneva (centre & wing) – The 2014 English Premiership’s ‘Players’ Player of the Year’ has become a familiar sight at rugby grounds around England since joining Leicester Tigers in 2012. The prolific try scorer made his international debut for Fiji in 2007 and has gone on to earn 20 caps for his country. He is currently fifth on the list of Fiji’s all-time top try scorers.
Akapusi Qera (Flanker & No.8) – The Fijian captain brings with him a wealth of experience and numerous accolades from a playing career that has spanned clubs in his native Fiji as well as England and France. He made his international debut for Fiji in 2005 and currently plays for Toulouse in France’s Top 14 competition.
Metuisela Talebula (full back & wing) – Both a Sevens and fifteen-a-side representative, Talebula currently plies his trade for Top 14 club Bordeaux in France. During the 2013/14 season the talented young flyer was the league’s top try scorer and has been widely tipped to have a very long and bright future.
Fijian rugby in numbers
80,000 – The estimated number of rugby players in Fiji – the country is considered to have the highest player to population ratio of any rugby playing nation
116 – Fiji’s highest ever winning margin (against Niue in 1983)
11 – Fiji’s current IRB World Ranking
6 – The number of times Fiji have featured at a Rugby World Cup
3 – The number of times Fiji have progressed from the pool stages at a Rugby World Cup