Fiji coach John McKee has called for a major sponsor of world renown to finance rugby on the Pacific island so it can develop into a force capable of challenging at the 2019 World Cup.
The Fijians will be flying home before the knockout stages after failing to overcome the daunting task of beating hosts England, 2011 semi-finalists Wales and two-time champions Australia in the appropriately titled ‘Pool of Death’.
However, their attractive, uninhibited style has made them a popular drawcard — they scored one of the best tries of the tournament in the 23-13 loss to Wales last Thursday — but they will face having to qualify for the next World Cup to be hosted by Japan after failing to make the top three in the pool.
McKee, though, says for the long-term future the Fijians required a substantial investment so they could develop their younger age teams.
“There has been a huge amount of positivity around the Fijian game and the style of play throughout the tournament from supporters throughout the UK and back home too,” said McKee.
“Hopefully we can transfer this into some commercial reality.
“It is always very difficult for the Pacific countries. But we have attracted some quite good sponsorship in terms of our local sponsors and they are great supporters of us.
“They really help to finance our game.
“But realistically, to take us to the next level, we need to somehow pull in some global sponsorship that can help finance our pathways, our under-20s and our Fiji Warriors (Fiji’s second string).
“We need to make sure the next generation of players, some of who will be playing in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, are ready at the right level to fill the holes left by some of these players who will retire from international rugby.”
McKee, who has had a much-travelled coaching career taking in Irish province Connacht, English outfit Cornish Pirates and French side Montferrand (now Clermont), said this World Cup more than any other illustrated the gap was closing between the top tier and the countries in the second level.
“All of the pools are tricky and it has been a credit to a number of the tier-two nations the way they have played,” said McKee.
“We have seen Japan beat South Africa and we’ve seen Georgia and Namibia play very well against the All Blacks.
“I think it just shows in the World Cup that the gaps are getting closer.”
“By 2019, we hope to see a couple of tier-two nations making it through to the quarter-finals,” added the New Zealander.
McKee said it was important for the Fijians to sign off their campaign with a win over the pool whipping boys Uruguay on Tuesday in Milton Keynes.
“We came here with high ambitions and wanted to get one or two scalps in the first three games,” said McKee.
“But that doesn’t take away from this last game on Tuesday, against Uruguay.
“They are a very tricky opponent and we will need to be at our best to beat them.
“However, the players are very motivated to finish the tournament on a high note.
“They are very focused on their training and the aspects of our game that we need to get right in time for Tuesday.”
- The West Australian