The arrival of Fijian fly-half Alivereti Veitokani (RPI – 64) in Sunbury-on-Thames has given London Irish a valuable new weapon in their arsenal.
The former Fijian Drua playmaker was key to his side’s National Rugby Championship success in 2018 and lit up the competition with his fast footwork, audacious offloads and strong support play. He was a spark plug that ignited the Drua around him.
One of the big questions hanging over the move is how much freedom will he be afforded in the Greene King IPA Championship, playing in a team under Les Kiss and Declan Kidney, where structure plays a bigger role in matches than Veitokani will have been used to in the NRC and in domestic competition in Fiji.
Speaking on the player’s arrival, Kidney had the following to say.
“Alivereti is a player with talent and potential. He will find the Championship more structured compared to what he is used to in Australia and Fiji, so it might take him time to adjust to rugby in England.”
Kidney is not going to give away too much in a press release, but it clearly sounds like Veitokani is going to have to embrace a more structured way of playing in order for him to feature at the Madejski for the rest of this season.
For Veitokani, this could be a challenging process. His game is built around him being able to make decisions on the fly, take risks and bring a more direct running threat to the first receiver position.
That said, it bodes well for Fiji, with the nation’s General Manager, Geoff Webster, having spoken to RugbyPass exclusively last year about the nation’s fortunes and highlighted the value of the Drua, playing in the NRC, being able to bring more structure to the players, who struggle to get it in domestic competition on the islands.
“When you’re on a small island in the Pacific, the game can be quite insular. The players go hard against each other, but they’re not exposed to different ways of playing. Historically, we have struggled to produce tactical game-managers at 10, and that’s a function of the environment we are in. In the NRC, you need to have that, and we’ve now seen Freddy Veitokani blossom into a Flying Fijian. The NRC becomes a critical bridge between the provincial on-island competition and the international arena and we are very thankful to World Rugby and the Fiji Government for the funding they provide to us to do that.”
In that sense, Veitokani’s move looks to be a promising one for Fiji, as he will again be faced by another style of rugby to learn and help develop his game with, but the key for Irish will be finding a balance in just how structured they ask him to be.
There is no point trying to turn him into Stephen Myler. Firstly, it erases many of the unique skills he will bring to the position and secondly, they already have Myler. Finding a way for him to have an impact early, such as off the bench or perhaps in a counter-attacking role at full-back, will help him acclimatise and get an appreciation for what it takes to play fly-half in England.
However, there is no need to transform the player. With Veitokani at 10, Irish potentially have a fly-half on the books who can offer something that no other English 10, bar perhaps Marcus Smith, can bring to the table, week in week out, in the Gallagher Premiership. Should they win promotion back to the competition this season, the Fijian playmaker is a potential x-factor threat to keep defence coaches up at night, in a league where ball-in-play times keep on increasing.
His development in south-west London will be interesting to watch over the coming months, as will be the job that the club ask him to perform moving forward. If they let Veitokani be Veitokani, within reason, then they could be on the way to a winning formula, despite not enjoying the budget of some of the more established Premiership clubs.
Watch: RugbyPass went behind the scenes with London Irish last year.
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