The combination of Lepani Botia and Semi Radradra in the centres against the Ikale Tahi Tonga on Saturday underlined the importance of selection for the Flying Fijians for each opposition in the coming Rugby World Cup.
The pair stood their ground in controlling the Tongan onslaught and had loads of resilience to turn the tide from defence to attack in the little possession afforded the team which resulted in two quick fire tries in the first half.
Masterminding the Red attacks were experienced midfield veterans; skipper Siale Piutau and Cooper Vuna who have decades of experience between them in the NRL, Super Rugby, Guinesses Premier, Japanese Premier and internationals.
The Fijian centres not only stemmed the tide in attacks but the experienced Tongans found it hard going when attempting to stop the straight running Botia and the strong elusive Radradra when the Fijians had possession mostly from turnover balls in the breakdowns.
The key positions in the Flying Fijians against Australia in their opening Rugby World Cup match has to be suited to the environment, best option for the opposition, form in training and the ability to have the mental strength to overcome when everything looks bleak on the pitch.
The combination of Botia and Radradra was ideal for the Tongan uncompromising style of attacks with 90 percent advantage in field position and possession in the first 40 minutes; stemmed the backline forays; with the Ikale Tahi reverting to the power of the forwards to breach the Fijian defence with a couple of mauling tries.
Botia combined well with Waisea Nayacalevu against the New Zealand Maori in their record 27-10 win at the ANZ Stadium in Suva on July 13 while the same combination failed to fire againt the Brave Blossoms a fortnight later.
The combination of Jale Vatubua and Semi Radradra was ideal against the Les Bleus in Fiji’s 21-14 victory at Stade de France in Paris on November 24 last year but was hardly used in the Maori series and the Pacific Nations Cup against Japan and Samoa.
Against the Canadians the pair was consistent with one backline try through left winger Josua Tuisova and the forwards took charge with tries to lock Leone Nakarawa, prop Peni Ravai, and one apiece for loose forwards Peceli Yato and Viliame Mata recording a 38-13 win.
The 19-stone Vatubua maybe an advantage in containing the Viseisei Express Train in the 17-stone Samu Kerevi but the coaches have to select the ideal number 12 in that first match at Sapporo Dome against the Wallabies on September 21.
At the same time the selectors have to take a close look at the pros and cons with picking Botia or Vatubua for the inside centre position in the all important first Flying Fijian match considering their overall play.
Botia is quick to react and pilfer balls from the attacking players in the breakdown; while the hulking Vatubua maybe the key in slowing down the breakthrough attacks from opposite number Kerevi and scything runs from fullback Kurtley Beale for the Wallabies.
The reintroduction of James O’Connor at outside centre was a headache for the Kiwis in the Bledisloe I match in Perth which saw the Wallabies 47-26 runaway last month which Fiji has to answer with either Radradra or Nayacalevu to contain the former Sale Sharks premier centre.
The revamped bad boy; O’Connor who debuted for the Wallabies when he was 18 years old in 2008 has sparked the attack of the Australians with a steady influence and offloads freeing up the backline players around him when on the rampage during the Bledisloe series.
The Flying Fijians face the Wallabies in their 2019 Rugby World Cup first match at the 40,000 plus capacity Sapporo Dome which is located on the island of Hokkaido which is north of Honshu where the capital Tokyo is located.
- FRB will be looking at the different positions for the Flying Fijians in their RWC introduction first match against Australia in the next few posts.