Fiji lose breakdown menace, captain for All Blacks rematch
Head coach Vern Cotter has made four changes to Fiji’s starting lineup for their rematch with New Zealand this weekend.
After staying in touch with the All Blacks for the better part of last Saturday’s match, the home side scored four tries in the final quarter to balloon the score out, ultimately winning 57-23.
Still, the result marked Fiji’s best-ever performance against NZ, setting records for most points scored, fewest points conceded and smallest losing margin.
As such, Fiji will enter Saturday’s game confident that they can continue to threaten the All Blacks – but they’ll have to do it without their talismanic skipper.
Midfielder Levani Botia – equally adept at disrupting breakdowns as he is with ball in hand – has been ruled out of Saturday’s clash in Hamilton and has been replaced by speedster Eneriko Buliruarua.
Experienced second-rower Leone Nakarawa will take over the captain’s armband this weekend in Botia’s stead.
“Earlier in the week we knew we had a doubt with Levani and we spoke to Leone,” Cotter said after naming his side.
“He has already been looking after the lineouts and now he takes on a wider leadership role, but he does that naturally with his excellent leadership skills.”
In more positive news, halfback Frank Lomani is able to take his place in the No 9 jersey after missing the first test due to disruptions to his travel from Australia.
Elsewhere, Peceli Yato comes into the starting lineup in place of Albert Tuisue at number 8, who wasn’t able to train at the start of the week due to a minor injury, while wing Setareki Tuicuvu takes over from Eroni Sau on the wing.
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There are also a handful of changes to the reserves with Mesulame Dolokoto and Eroni Mawi joining as front-row substitutes, Kitione Kamikamica set to cover the loose forwards, and Queensland Reds half-back Moses Sorovi and utility back Teti Tela lining up to make their test debuts.
“I felt that strong sign of strength and unity from our boys, they competed well at the breakdown and they were well structured with their set-piece, but in the last 20 minutes we just run out of steam,” Cotter said of the first test.
“[There were] some really positive signs, as we slowed the All Blacks down and they expected to play undercover, and [we] did a really good job at going in and disrupting and stealing ball and that was important in stopping the All Blacks flow.
“They will counter our ruck play so we’ll be expecting them to be more physical at these areas, and we’re physically prepared for that. We’re looking at ways where we can surprise them.”
All in all, Cotter is confident that Fiji can put out an improved showing – especially given the team’s now had one extra week in camp together, after spending their first two weeks in New Zealand in quarantine.
“There are some very positive things from the last game that we’re happy with and things that we need to work on to became more competitive for our next game this weekend,” he said.
“We’re happy with the effort but there are certain parts that weren’t quite polished well, which is understandable because we’re haven’t played together and it was our first test match for this year.”
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm on Saturday evening from Hamilton.
Fiji: Kini Murimurivalu, Setareki Tuicuvu, Waisea Nayacalevu, Eneriko Buliruarua, Nemani Nadolo, Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani; Peceli Yato, Mesulame Kunavula, Johnny Dyer, Leone Nakarawa (c), Temo Mayanavanua, Mesaki Doge, Sam Matavesi, Peni Ravai. Reserves: Mesulame Dolokoto, Eroni Mawi, Leeroy Atalifo, Albert Tuisue, Kitione Kamikamica, Moses Sorovi, Teti Tela, Manasa Mataele.
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