It’s been a long road back for Fiji, since being relegated in 2014, but the islanders have finally returned to the top tier of international age-grade rugby, after having won the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2018.
They saw off the challenges of Portugal, Uruguay, Canada and Samoa in that competition to book their passage back up to the World Rugby U20 Championship, taking the place of relegated Japan. The recent weeks saw a morale-boosting win over Japan for Fiji in the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship, where they were also competitive with eventual tournament-winners Australia.
Having run the rule over their squad in that competition, Fiji have now confirmed a 30-man squad to take on France, Argentina and Wales in the pool stage of next month’s World Rugby U20 Championship, with two further players set to be cut before they depart for the tournament.
Among the standouts in the group are hooker Tevita Ikanivere, prop Livai Natave, full-back Osea Waqaninavatu, fly-half Caleb Muntz and centre Ilaisa Droasese.
The squad has been bolstered by some off-island talent, too, with scrum-half Josh Vuta a product of Australian schoolboy rugby and currently playing at the university level in Waikato, whilst loosehead Emosi Tuqiri’s feats for Marist College Ashgrove in Australia went viral a couple of years ago.
The group will be led by by former Fiji second row Kele Leawere, with Viliame Gadolo taking on the mantle of forwards coach and Brad Harris shouldering the responsibilities of attack coach. The group will also work with scrum coach Alan Muir prior to their departure for Argentina.
They have also taken part in a full-on scrimmage with the Fijian Latui side, the team that will be taking part in the upcoming Global Rapid Rugby Pacific Showcase series, as part of their preparations for the tournament.
With just five second-year players in the group, Fiji will be intent on maintaining their place in the tournament this season, with a more experienced group next season potentially capable of delivering a shock or two. That is something which will be made more likely by Fiji’s eagerness to capture players at senior level where, after losing a number of players from their group last season, Fiji have already moved to capture eight of their current U20s, thanks to appearances for the Fiji Warriors in the Pacific Challenge competition.
If they can take the scalp of Wales or Argentina in their pool, there is a good chance they could avoid the relegation bracket altogether, but should they find themselves in the bottom four come the playoffs, they have a pool of players capable of challenging the likes of Scotland, Georgia and Italy.
Full squad: Emosi Gabriel Tuqiri, Livai Rasala Natave, Meli Samuels Sikoijeriko Tuni, Tevita Veicavuyaki Ikanivere, Lino Mairara Vasuinadi, Manoa Mocelutu, Joseva Varuru Nasaroa, Elijah Seniloli Kuilamu, Poate Rainima, Isoa William Nasilasila, Taniela Ramasibana, Christopher Noki Mesake Minimbi, Vilive Miramira, Alivereti Loaloa, Etonia Bose Waqa, Yabaki Seeto, Aminasi Tiritabuanira Shaw, Simione Turaga Kuruvoli, Josh Akariva Isaiah Vuta, Mesake Tudrau Tove Kurisaru, Caleb Rava Muntz, Taniela Yabakidrau Soqonawasaloa, Ilaisa Droasese, Isaac Manoa Ratumaitavuki, Veresa Tuqovu Ramototabua, Epeli Momo, Anare Bicilo Wqasaqa, Kaminieli Rasaku, Ratu Osea Waqaninavatu, Osea Natoga.
Watch: Fiji 7s created history in Hong Kong
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.