Canada 18-47 Fiji: Fijians go into opening game with England on the back of a conclusive win at the Stoop
In front of a watching Stuart Lancaster, Fiji delivered a timely reminder that they are more than capable of playing the role of the ultimate party gatecrashers at the World Cup opening ceremony in 12 days’ time.
Admittedly, beating an experimental Canada team by five tries to three is not the perfect barometer of a team’s potential, but there were enough flashes of attacking spark at the Stoop, generally ignited by the wonderful Nikola Matawalu, that would burn a hole through most defences. The tackling, even in a nominal warm-up match, was brutal just to watch and regardless of the result England’s physios will be in for a busy rehab day on September 19.
If that was to be expected from Fiji, what was surprising was the solidity of their set piece. They shoved the Canucks off their own scrum and their lineout, often a weak point, was as well oiled as an Aberdeen roughneck on payday.
There are still issues to be ironed out, notably at the restart which was little short of a disaster area, but a degree of rust was understandable in the first match since winning the Pacific Nations Cup over a month a go. Indeed they are the form team in the group of death having lost just one game this year – by a point to the New Zealand Maori – and John McKee, the head coach, is training his sights beyond claiming the hosts’ scalp.
“We want to get out of the pool phases,” McKee said. “The great thing about sport and the players that we have is that challenges bring out the best in people and I believe that with the team we’ve got we are going to cause some upsets in this competition.
“For us we may not believe they are upsets but the other people may do. We’ve got the England game but this pool isn’t all about facing England, it’s about over the four games and there will be a lot of twists and turns and teams are going to beat each other, win games and lose games, so it could be very tight at the end.”
Lancaster, watching alongside Andy Farrell, was impressed, but not surprised. “We have seen a lot of them,” Lancaster said. “We have watched all the Pacific Nations Cup games including the final when they beat Samoa. They were very good in that. They have been unbeaten for quite awhile and clearly good value to extend unbeaten run today.
“He [Matawalu] a real threat isn’t he? He’s a livewire, but they have got threats all over the field. The whole XV I thought were impressive. I think because of the time they have had in camp, you can see they are a lot more organised in the structured parts of the game as well as the unstructured parts. Their lineout was good as well so they have obviously had a good two months in camp.”
Lancaster will have also circled the name of Leone Nakawara in his black book. At two points in the match, the Glasgow Warriors second row managed to offload with four Canadians hanging on his back. Nemani Nadolo had less of an impact in the loose but was metronomic from the tee – seemingly in defiance of all known laws of physics, the 20 stone winger kicked nine from nine.
Yet the real dangerman is Matawalu who is Bath bound after this tournament. He had a hand in all three of Fiji’s first-half tries before being withdrawn just before halftime with a minor groin tweak.
The first was a typical piece of opportunistic scrum half play, crabbing sideways before spotting an obliging gap. A dominant Fijian scrum provided the platform for the second. Sakiusa Masi, the No 8, picked up at the base with Matawalu, running the perfect support line, on his tail and he found Waisea Nayacalevu for the score.
Canada did conjure a fine try of their own through Conor Trainor but Fiji – or rather Matawalu – replied quickly, starting and finishing a breakout move before limping off. Without Matawalu, Fiji’s play lacked fizz in the second half even if Nayacalevu got his second and Metuisela Talebula ran in for an intercept. DTH van der Merwe bagged a couple of tries for Canada as Fiji took their foot off the gas in preparation for bigger things to come across the Chertsey Road on September 18.
- The Telegraph