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Fiji bring back big guns with 11 changes for Japan clash

By Online Editors
Fiji were tested early in their preparation by the Maori All Blacks. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Fiji head coach John McKee has secured a wealth of experience in his match day squad for the opening round of the Pacific Nations Cup against Japan in Kamaishi this Saturday.


11 changes have been made to the side that suffered a 26-17 defeat at the hands of the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua last week, with blindside flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu, centre Waisea Nayacalevu and wings Filipo Nakosi and Patrick Osborne the only players to retain their place in the starting lineup.

“We’re getting further down our journey towards Rugby World Cup and have a stronger understanding of our game plans and our systems,” McKee commented.

“I’m thrilled to have been able to name such a strong squad for the match against Japan,” he added.

Olympic gold medal-winning lock Leone Nakarawa headlines a brand new tight five, which also features the locally-based Eroni Mawi at loosehead prop.

“Mawi deserves selection,” McKee said. “He’s an up and coming player that has been drafted for a number of test matches as a reserve and this is his opportunity to show what he has in the starting team this Saturday.”

Joining Mawi and Nakarawa in the new-look tight five are Toulouse hooker Sam Matavesi, tighthead prop Manasa Saulo, and London Irish second rower Albert Tuisue.


In the loose forwards, Fijian Drua openside flanker Mosese Voka is replaced by former sevens sensation Semi Kunatani, while star Edinburgh No. 8 Viliame Mata takes the place of Nemani Nagusa.

New Melbourne Rebels signing Frank Lomani pairs up with Racing 92 pivot Ben Volavola in the halves, demoting last week’s halfback Henry Senioli to the bench and forcing Alivereti Veitokani to fullback in place of Kini Murimurivalu.

Clermont midfielder Levani Botia is the only other change to the starting side, pairing up with Nayacalevu.

On the bench, Fijian Drua rake Mesulame Dolokoto, Bordeaux speedster Peni Ravai and Jersey Reds prop Lee-Roy Afatilo combine to form a fresh front row reserves trio.


Apisalome Ratuniyarawa will cover at lock, as will Peceli Yato in the loose forwards, while Seniola, Jale Vatubua and Josh Matavesi will provide back-up for the backline.

It’s a strong squad as Fiji look to begin a fifth successful Pacific Nations Cup campaign with a win against the Brave Blossoms, and McKee said physical dominance was integral for that.

“We did that against the Maori All Blacks in Suva. It is important that we repeat that type of dominance against Japan,” he said.

“They will play a very up tempo and a very fast game so we need to work very hard in our defensive system and effort to deny Japan opportunities to score.”

The result of this weekend’s match could bolster Fiji’s standing in the world rankings, as victory of 15 points or more will see them overtake France in eighth place.

Two more Pacific Nations Cup matches in consecutive weeks against Canada and Samoa will follow after this clash, before Fiji’s final pre-World Cup encounter against Tonga at Eden Park in Auckland as part of the Pasifika Challenge II on August 31.

Fiji open their World Cup campaign against Australia in Sapporo on September 21.

Fiji team to play Japan:

1. Eroni Mawi, 2. Sam Matavesi, 3. Manasa Saulo, 4. Albert Tuisue, 5. Leone Nakarawa, 6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 7. Semi Kunatani, 8. Viliame Mata, 9. Frank Lomani, 10. Ben Volavola, 11. Patrick Osbourne, 12. Levani Botia, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu, 14. Filipo Nakosi, 15. Alivereti Veitokani.


16. Mesulame Dolokoto, 17. Peni Ravai, 18. Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19. Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 20. Peceli Yato, 21. Henry Seniloli, 22. Jale Vatubua, 23. Josh Matavesi.

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