The Flying Fijians have landed back home to a mild reception after a mediocre Rugby World Cup tournament finishing third in their Pool D with Wales topping the five teams.
After fans got hyped up with the big names in the team, a mixed bag of results with warm up matches with the Maori All Blacks and Pacific Nations Cup, there was high hopes and foreboding thoughts simultaneously.
The skidded anticipation of a great outing came to the fore especially after the thrashing at the hands of the Brave Blossoms at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium in the first PNC match on July 27.
As a fan the 62-year turnaround with the Maori All Blacks feat with a 27-10 score-line had inspired hope and aspirations of a team worthy of reaching the play offs at the RWC in Japan; a fortnight before the Japanese encounter.
The class and flair displayed by the Fijians at the national stadium on that cool afternoon with a dominant forward display and offloads interchange between the front eight and the backs charmed the fans.
Was this the year that we are going to have a better outing in the RWC?
It was deemed exceptional especially looking back at Fiji’s last international; their 21-14 upset of France in Paris last November moving up the world ranking to number nine.
The losses to tier one nations Australia in the opening match and Wales in the last encounter showed glimpses of greatness in the first two quarters then went downhill in the second half with the duo having the ascendency towards the end.
Fiji restored some respectability in their 45-10 hammering of the Georgians in their third pool match but had been thrown off their equilibrium in the match before with a 27-30 upset by Uruguay.
There has been allegations of smokescreens and counter smokescreens by the tier one nations coaches and administrators; the allegations of officiating to undermine the lower ranked teams; but at the end of the day if the Flying Fijians have succumbed to them in the past, we need better planning and resolve to overcome them.
Some of the weaknesses identified by the media and fans in the lead up to the tournament seemed like it had been swept under the carpet and ignored which was very displeasing when it kept on creeping up in the RWC matches.
The easy tries by the Wallabies and Uruguay by the rolling mauls and lapses of indecisiveness and aimless kicking cost the team lost metres and possession which would have been better utilized if the team was at peak fitness to keep running at the opposition.
The strengths in the team with the offloads and continual phases of attacks had been undermined by the lack of fitness in the second half and indecision by the backs at key moments in the match.
The set pieces with the scrums and lineouts improved a lot in the tournament and the coaching from John McKee has seen strides forward for the team in 2019.
For the Flying Fijians to prepare for the 2023 RWC, the Fiji Rugby Union needs to put on the brakes; analyse the performance in the Japanese tournament; make some hard calls; and set realistic goals to prepare with a timeline to have a team that is fit, conditioned and prepared by 2022 for a better outing.