Six Nations organisers have confirmed to RugbyPass that Fiji won’t be joining the tournament on an annual basis after a misleading statement from the Fijian Rugby Union.
Fiji have apparently secured an invite to participate in an eight-team tournament next November that will replace the original Test schedule featuring the likes of New Zealand, Australian and South Africa visiting Europe.
However, while Six Nations have insisted the likely invitation to the Fijians is a one-off, their inclusion highlights how vital players from the Pacific Island nations are to the club game in the northern hemisphere.
Fiji’s situation with the Six Nations got lost in translation in midweek when John O’Connor, the FRU’s chief executive, appeared to suggest the country were about to leapfrog Georgia into the tournament.
In a statement, he claimed: “We are on the verge of joining the Six Nations rugby competition and have Super Rugby, New Zealand and Australia knocking on our doors.”
Lost in translation…https://t.co/zjVyGp2lUB
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 24, 2020
However, rather than talking about something permanent, it has since been clarified that O’Connor was talking about the invite to the new end-of-year tournament that will be staged in European due to the cancellation of the tours by the All Blacks and co because of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the Six Nations told RugbyPass on Friday: “Fiji will not be joining the Six Nations Championship but they may be one of the teams participating in an autumn competition.”
Fiji and Georgia are said to poised to line up with the Six Nations in a one-off competition featuring two pools of four teams, with the top two meeting in a final at Twickenham on December 5.
While they are not wanted permanently, what the impending invite for Fiji highlights is how their squad is very much European-based and they would be a handy doorstep addition to the Six Nations if they were ever asked back.
In the build-up to last year’s World Cup in Japan, Fiji held a three-day camp in Toulouse for their European-based players with 33 attending under head coach John McKee who has since been replaced by Vern Cotter. That European-based pre-World Cup camp involved 19 players who were based in France and 14 from England and Scotland.
The current lockdown restrictions on travel have meant Cotter has yet to work with the Fiji squad since taking over the role – he is currently based in New Zealand having returned home from France. But it seems certain his first training sessions with the squad will now be in France to prepare for the autumn Test series.
Despite the Fijian islands being more than 10,000 miles from Twickenham, Fiji are well-positioned to help Europe out as 300 of their players are currently employed at various levels of the sport in France.
Last year’s World Cup squad in Japan featured twelve players operating with French Top 14 clubs, seven in the Gallagher Premiership, two in the Guinness PRO14 and four from the English Championship.
That 25-strong contingent was supplemented by players who remain at home in Fiji, but the pressure to take an overseas contract remains a major factor as it allows them to look after their extended family. A young Fijian player recently revealed he opted to leave home because the money he would earn in France would transform the lives of his 15-strong family group.
When the new season in France gets underway in September there will be more than 20 Fijians in the Top 14 league while nearly as many are in England and Scotland – Glasgow Warriors will feature world-class lock Leone Nakawara in their squad and Edinburgh will boast brilliant No8 Viliame Mata.
It has been an extraordinary day of claim and counter claim https://t.co/MfknKH1DHZ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 22, 2020
Meanwhile, centre Semi Radradra has swapped France for England and is now at Bristol while Sam Matavesi is in the Northampton squad along with Api Ratuniyarawa. Leicester have just added Kini Murimurivalu to a back division that also includes man-mountain Nemani Nadolo, who retired from Test rugby after scoring 19 tries in 29 internationals for Fiji.
Two of the most recent arrivals in France have been members of the Fiji sevens squad who have been released to take up their European contracts. Aminiasi Tuimaba has joined Pau, who have three other Fijians in their squad, Filimoni Botitu is the third Fijian now at Castres while Brive boast seven Fijians.
A look at the Fiji team that lost 29-17 to Wales in the final pool game at the 2019 World Cup illustrates the massive influence they have on the European club game:
1. Campese Ma’afu (ex-Leicester)
2. Sam Matavesi (Northampton)
3. Manasa Saulo (ex-London Irish)
4. Tevita Cavubati (Harlequins)
5. Leone Nakarawa (Glasgow)
6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu (ex-Pau)
7. Semi Kunatani (Castres)
8. Viliame Mata (Edinburgh)
9. Frank Lomani (Melbourne Rebels)
10. Ben Volavola (Perpignan)
11. Semi Radradra (Bristol)
12. Levani Botia (La Rochelle)
13. Waisea Nayacalevu (Stade Francais)
14. Josua Tuisova (Lyon)
15. Kini Murimurivalu (Leicester)
16. Mesulame Dolokoto (Glasgow)
17. Eroni Mawi (Saracens)
18. Peni Ravai (Clermont)
19. Apisalome Ratuniyarawa (Northampton)
20. Peceli Yato (Clermont)
21. Nikola Matawalu (Glasgow)
22. Jale Vatubua (Pau)
23. Josh Matavesi (Bath)
This incredible saga has now taken another remarkable twist https://t.co/9YUD5Ec6G6
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 22, 2020
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