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‘It was quite sad’: Former Fiji captain on Wallabies’ World Cup campaign

By Finn Morton
A general view as players of Australia look dejected after defeat to Fiji during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 17, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Former Fiji captain Mosese Rauluni calls Australia home. Rauluni knows “a lot of the boys” who played for the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup after coaching club rugby in Brisbane with Easts.

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That’s why, in his own words, it was “quite sad” to see the Wallabies bow out of the tournament before the quarterfinals.

For the third time in as many World Cups, there was more than just national pride and bragging rights on the line when Fiji played Australia at rugby’s showpiece event. It was practically knockout footy.

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The Wallabies had only won one of their six Tests under coach Eddie Jones before playing the Flying Fijians, while the Pacific Islanders were coming off a heartbreaking defeat to Wales.

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For two nations with quarterfinal ambitions, this was nothing short of a must-win derby. As we now know, Fiji’s historic victory had a fateful impact on both team’s World Cup dreams.

Fiji beat the Wallabies 22-15 which saw them take control of their own destiny with the knockout rounds rapidly approaching, but they appeared to take the foot off the gas in their final two pool games.

After sneaking past Georgia, the Flying Fijians lost a one-point thriller against minnows Portugal. It was just enough to book them a spot in the quarterfinals.

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Both Fiji and Australia finished pool play on 11 competition points so the Wallabies were sent packing on head-to-head. It was Australia’s first-ever pool stage exit at the sport’s showpiece event.

“It was quite sad. I know a lot of the boys,” said Rauluni, who captained Fiji at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

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“I’ve been in their shoes when you come home early but for a tier one team like that to come home so early, and depending on the Portugal game with Fiji, I guess it’s what people have been talking about, 20 years in the making.

“A lot of it didn’t go down to grassroots or club rugby where in terms of developing these players… they could’ve been a stronghold now.

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“It was a good wake-up call for Australian rugby but it was also great for Fiji rugby. Just to see Fiji control the game and not play a Fiji style where they just run it from everywhere, they actually kept the scoreboard ticking over.

“Australia had to play desperate rugby and that’s what Fiji wants.”

While Australia will have to wait another four years to showcase their talents on the biggest stage in rugby, Fiji are preparing for a blockbuster showdown with England in Marseille.

Fiji beat England for the first time ever 30-22 at Twickenham in late August, and they’ll look to repeat history against an improved English outfit on Sunday evening.

“It’s very possible,” Rauluni continued, when asked if Fiji will win their quarter-final.

“They dropped their standards when we played the tier two nations but when we England they’ll have the confidence from a month or two ago when they played England.

“England haven’t really changed the way they play. I think they’re a better team England though, they looked pretty shabby going into this World Cup but they’ve stuck to their best game and it’s working.

“Nearly came undone against Samoa because Samoa plays that Fijian style of rugby but more combative. I think the Fijians should go into this game confident and I definitely know that they’ll lift because it’s a tier-one nation and they’ve got the confidence after beating them last time.

“It’s going to be a lot tougher than when they played in Twickenham but I think it’s going to be a good game. If they try and stop England’s kicking game and put pressure on them it’ll work I think.”

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mitch 1 hours ago
The Wallabies team Joe Schmidt must pick to win back Bledisloe Cup

Rodda will be a walk up starter at lock. Frost if you analyse his dominance has little impact and he’s a long way from being physical enough, especially when you compare to Rodda and the work he does. He was quite poor at the World Cup in his lack of physicality. Between Rodda and Skelton we would have locks who can dominate the breakdown and in contact. Frost is maybe next but Schmidt might go for a more physical lock who does their core work better like Ryan or LSL. Swain is no chance unless there’s a load of injuries. Pollard hasn’t got the scrum ability yet to be considered. Nasser dominated him when they went toe to toe and really showed him up. Picking Skelton effects who can play 6 and 8. Ideally Valetini would play 6 as that’s his best position and Wilson at 8 but that’s not ideal for lineout success. Cale isn’t physical enough yet in contact and defence but is the best backrow lineout jumper followed by Wright, Hanigan and Swinton so unfortunately Valetini probably will start at 8 with Wright or Hanigan at 6. Wilson on the bench, he’s got too much quality not to be in the squad. Paisami is leading the way at 12 but Hamish Stewart is playing extremely well also and his ball carrying has improved significantly. Beale is also another option based on the weekend. Beale is class but he’s also the best communicator of any Australian backline player and that can’t be underestimated, he’ll be in the mix.

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