Fiji are in form, possess a modern-day Jonah Lomu in Nemani Nadolo and will worry Australia, Wales and England, but getting out of the group will be tough
Fri 18 Sep England v Fiji, Twickenham, 8pm
Wed 23 Sept Australia v Fiji, Millennium Stadium, 4.45pm
Thur 1 Oct Wales v Fiji, Millennium Stadium, 4.45pm
Tue 6 Oct Fiji v Uruguay, Stadium MK, 8pm
Odds to win World Cup
The romantic’s favourites ever since their famous 38-34 win over Wales in 2007, Fiji’s buildup to the 2015 tournament could hardly have gone better allowing for their disappointing lack of tier one opposition. Such has been their form this year – their only defeat came by a single point to New Zealand Maori – that their Pool A opponents Australia have warned of the danger they pose. “Fiji are a bit unpredictable. You can’t really train for the certain style of how they play footy,” the Australia full-back, Israel Folau, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Bob Dwyer, the coach of Australia’s 1991 champions, believes this Fiji side are going to emulate the 2007 team and claim a big scalp. “Fiji are a serious threat,” he told the Rugby Paper. “They are capable of one big result. That will ensure that whoever they beat won’t get out of the pool.”
Fiji’s recent Pacific Nations Cup win means they go into the tournament ninth in the IRB standings: the highest-ranked Pacific Nation side, above the more fancied Samoa as well as Scotland. Their success in the tournament came as a surprise to many, with Samoa expected to walk to the title after impressing in defeat to New Zealand by nine points in Apia. However, an under-strength Fiji held them to a 30-30 draw in the cross-pool stage, then went one better by beating them 39-29 in the final play-off to take the title.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their success is that they were without their most dangerous player, for the tournament. The 6ft 5in, 19st 5lb three-quarter is terrifyingly quick and often has the goal-kicking duties for his country to boot (when playing for the Crusaders in Super Rugby he cedes this responsibility to Dan Carter, which only seems fair). Fiji show no signs of giving up on their traditional fast, loose style and, should it click from the off in the tournament opener, then England’s current generation may soon understand how their 1995 predecessors felt.
Nadolo, a former Australia under-20 international, possesses more than just a mightily impressive scoring record (15 tries in his 19 caps and 21 in 27 Crusaders appearances). He is from prime rugby stock: his uncle is the former Canberra rugby league great Noa Nadruku and his cousins include the former Wallaby Lote Tuqiri and Tevita Kuridrani, a likely starter for Australia at No13. Nadolo also has experience, albeit brief, of playing in England. He was with Exeter in 2011, but was released after a drink-driving arrest having played four games.
Fiji are far from a one-man team. Other familiar, impressive names in the squad include the captain and former Gloucester back-row favourite, Akapusi Qera, as well as Leicester’s Vereniki Goneva, who was the Premiership’s top try-scorer two seasons ago. There will be an opportunity for Bath, London Irish and Harlequins fans to get a look at their respective new signings Nikola Matawalu, Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Netani Talei, and the Ospreys centre Josh Matavesi will most likely take the starting fly-half berth. Much of the squad play in France but there is further British experience in the form of the athletic Glasgow lock Leone Nakarawa and Doncaster’s Viliame Veikoso.
Fiji are likely to struggle in the front row, despite the experience of their hooker and vice-captain, Sunia Koto. Two of the props, Lee Roy Atalifo and Peni Ravai, are Fiji-based amateurs, showing the lack of resources available to John McKee, in that department.
They are also without the thrilling former Clermont wing Napolioni Nalaga, who has failed in his efforts to be fit, and Goneva’s veteran Tigers team-mate Seremaia Bai, who McKee opted to leave out. Both are named among the non-travelling reserves but there was no place even there for Taqele Naiyaravoro. The giant future Glasgow wing was part of Australia’s extended training squad and there was speculation Fiji may call for him after he was cut by the Wallabies, but McKee opted not to disrupt his squad.
Impressive as their win over Samoa and the unbeaten Pacific Nations Cup campaign was, it is difficult to assess what kind of impact Fiji will have without them having met the top sides in their World Cup preparations. In a weaker pool you might be tempted to have a small wager on them upsetting the odds and going through, but to do so from the “pool of death” would be folly. Nonetheless, they can take heart from the fact the financial problems that have plagued them in World Cup buildups of yore will not be a concern this time.
Radrodro Tabualevu, the Fiji Rugby Union chief executive, has said the team required an unprecedented $5m for the campaign and, according to a media release in August, they are $400,000 short, largely thanks to a sponsorship deal with Vodafone. While this figure includes the budget for the summer’s warm-up matches, it should ensure the funding disputes between players and the Fijian RFU that led an unsettled squad to produce disappointing results at the 2011 World Cup should be easily avoided this time.
Fiji’s 31-man World Cup squad
Props Lee Roy Atalifo (Suva), Isei Colati (Nevers), Campese Ma’afu (Pays D’Aix), Peni Ravai (Nadroga), Manasa Saulo (Timisoara).
Hookers Sunia Koto (Narbonne), Tuapati Talemaitoga (Pays D’Aix), Viliame Veikoso (Doncaster).
Locks Tevita Cavubati (Ospreys), Leone Nakarawa (Glasgow Warriors), Api Ratuniyarawa (Agen), Nemia Soqeta (Biarritz).
Back-rows Sakiusa Masi Matadigo (Lyon), Akapusi Qera (Montpellier, capt), Malakai Ravulo (Farul Constanta), Netani Talei (Harlequins), Dom Waqaniburotu (Brive), Peceli Yato (Clermont).
Scrum-halves Nemia Kenatale (Farul Constanta), Nikola Matawalu (Bath), Henry Seniloli (Treviso).
Fly-halves Josh Matavesi (Ospreys), Ben Volavola (Waratahs).
Centres Levani Botia (La Rochelle), Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers), Gabiriele Lovobalavu (Bayonne).
Wings Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders), Waisea Nayacalevu (Stade Français), Asaeli Tikoirotuma (London Irish).
Full-backs Kini Murimurivalu (La Rochelle), Metuisela Talebula (Bordeaux).
- World Cup profile of Fiji by The Guardian