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Fiji U20s make big strides

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Fiji U20s show their teeth ahead of World Rugby U20 Championship

After suffering a 53-7 defeat to New Zealand in the opening round, Fiji showed their teeth against Australia on Tuesday, with a far more respectable 16-0 loss in the Oceania Rugby U20s Championship.

The tournament is an annual benchmark for how the Pacific-based sides will go in the World Rugby U20 Championship, which this year will be hosted by Argentina.

Fiji are set to play in their first championship since 2014, when they were relegated to the World Rugby Trophy. Three fruitless years in the second tier of age-grade rugby followed, before the islanders were able to secure promotion back to the top tier last year.

A number of players will be returning from that successful side, including fly-half Caleb Muntz, who whilst not quite at his best at Bond University on Tuesday against Australia, will provide valuable control and game-management to the Fijian side in Argentina. Eight players in the squad have also been blooded in the Fiji Warriors side recently, ensuring that their international futures are now tied to Fiji.

There were plenty of positives to take out of the game for the team and their coach Kele Leawere, as Fiji’s scrum was able to match up well and even exert pressure on their Australian counterparts, whilst their conditioning and defensive work looked to be in a good place ahead of the global championship in June. Given the lack of resources they have in comparison to their rivals from across the Coral Sea, including a lack of an attack coach or a video analyst, it was a sterling effort from Leawere’s side.

Up front, hooker and captain Tevita Veicavuyaki was effective, as was tighthead prop Livai Rasala Natave, who anchored the scrum. With number eight Aminiasi Tiritabua Shaw carrying well and making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, Fiji were able to hold their own against the Australian pack.

The back line was not as fluid as they would have liked, but outside centre Ilaisa Droasese looked consistently threatening, as well as making a number of effective defensive reads and one-on-one tackles. Combined with Veresa Tuqovu Ramototabua at inside centre, Fiji have the makings of a dangerous midfield pairing, especially with the all-round play of Ratu Osea Waqaninavatu being injected into the mix from full-back.

Fiji will finish up the Oceania tournament against Japan on Saturday, where they will be hoping to turn the positive aspects of their performances against New Zealand and Australia into a morale-boosting win ahead of their return to the U20 Championship.

Fiji face reigning world champions France, hosts Argentina and Wales in the group stage of the competition and although their chances of emerging from that pool in any bracket other than the relegation playoff are slim, the young islanders have shown plenty of reasons why they can worry the likes of Georgia, Scotland and Italy, all of whom could well end up comprising the bottom four alongside Fiji in June.

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Fiji U20s show their teeth ahead of World Rugby U20 Championship