The new pairing of a midfield combination of Lepani Botia and Waisea Nayacalevu for the Flying Fijians opening match against the New Zealand Maoris is bold.
Bold in the sense that French overcomers Jale Vatubua and Semi Radradra have been rested with media reports claiming injury.
It is a breath of fresh air and shows the depth of resources in the squad and the willingness of coach John McKee to test new combinations.
Botia was at his blockbusting best in a recent Top 14 competition with a hard boring run where he floored Toulon centre and former All Black great Ma’a Nonu in the first confrontation and outran Nonu in a latter play initiating an attack for his La Rochele side. Both were playing inside centre.
Lepani’s leadership role in the 2012 national sevens team and his damaging run against Tongan forwards in the 2015 Pacific Nations Cup to open up the defence for a Henry Seniloli try are glimpses of his potential.
Botia has been mostly hibernating as far as the Flying Fijians tests since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but his return could spark a revival of his bullocking runs to create gaps for the strong wingers in Josua Tuisova and Eroni Sau.
Nayacalevu has been playing consistently in the outside centre and equally good on the wideout with his champion Stade Francais side and will definitely surprise the Kiwis with his speed and defence.
Incumbent centres Vatubua and experienced Radradra whose combination unlocked and exposed the defence of tier one nations France and Scotland in November are rested for the Rotorua rematch next week.
The naming of Alifereti Veitokani at fullback is refreshing for a tryout after his successful baptism in British club competition with the London Irish who has been consistently at the number 15 berth.
Sevanaia Galala has been named on the bench and will be an able replacement for the midfield or the fullback position.
The forwards have been tested at the highest level and will be at their best against a Maori team most of whom have Super Rugby experience.
Flying Fijians Squad: 1. Peni Ravai, 2.Sam Matavesi, 3.Manasa Saulo, 4. Albert Tuisue, 5. Leone Nakarawa, 6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), 7. Semi Kunatani, 8. Viliame Mata, 9. Frank Lomani, 10. Ben Volavola, 11. Eroni Sau, 12. Lepani Botia, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu, 14. Josua Tuisova, 15. Alivereti Veitokani.
Reserves: 16. Mesulame Dolokoto, 17. Eroni Mawi, 18. Kalivati Tawake, 19. Api Ratuniyarawa, 20. Nemani Nagusa, 21. Henry Seniloli, 22.Sevanaia Galala, 23 Patrick Osbourne.