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Son of former RWC player handed Fiji debut

By Jon Newcombe
DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 26: Kitione Salawa of the Fijian Drua offloads the ball during the round 14 Super Rugby Pacific match between Highlanders and Fijian Drua at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on May 26, 2024, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Fiji’s Kitione Salawa joins new Italian call-up Matt Gallagher as the son of a famous rugby-playing father making their Test debut this weekend.


An openside, Salawa shares the same Christian and position as his dad and is one of three uncapped players named in new head coach Mick Byrnes’ first matchday squad for Saturday’s trip to Georgia, along with Peniasi Dakuwaqa and Inia Tabuavou.

Salawa senior won six caps for Fiji and appeared at the Rugby World Cup in 2003, while Gallagher, who wins his first Azzurri cap against Samoa, is the son of former All Blacks full-back, John Gallagher.

Salawa junior, 23, retuned from an 11-,month lay-off because of a shoulder injury to star for the Fijian Drua this season, while Dakuwaqa impressed with his dangerous running for Stade Francais in the Top 14 and has been flagged up as one to watch by Byrne.

Inia Tabuavou is another plying his trade in France, as a centre with Racing 92.

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Sevens international Elia Canakaivata and World Rugby U20 Championship 2023 graduate, Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, are also in line for first caps having been included amongst the replacements.

Upfront, Eroni Mawi, Tevita Ikanivere and Mesake Doge form the front row, Isoa Nasilasila and Temo Mayanavanua pack down behind them at lock, while Lekima Tagitagivalu is named on the blindside, Salawa is handed the number seven jersey and Viliame Mata brings all his skills and experience to No.8

With Caleb Muntz nursing a minor injury, Vilimoni Botitu steps in to win his fourth start at 10 and will partner scrum-half Frank Lomani at half-back.


Waisea Nayacalevu leads the team at 13, with Tabuavou inside him, while Dakuwaqa and Jiuta Wainiqolo take their place on the wings and laisa Droasese lines up at full-back, as Fiji look to back up last year’s 17-12 win at RWC 2023.

Fiji overturned a 9-0 half-time deficit and overcame the loss of Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova to the sin-bin to win that day, their tries coming from Nayacalevu and Vinaya Habosi.

Fiji team to play Georgia in Batumi, Saturday July 6:

15. Ilaisa Droasese; 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu (C), 12. Inia Tabuavou*, 11. Peniasi Dakuwaqa*; 10. Vilimoni Botitu, 9. Frank Lomani; 1. Eroni Mawi, 2. Tevita Ikanivere, 3. Mesake Doge, 4. Isoa Nasilasila, 5. Temo Mayanavanua, 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu, 7. Kitione Salawa*, 8. Viliame Mata


Replacements: 16. Zuriel Togiatama, 17. Haereiti Hetet, 18. Peni Ravai, 19. Albert Tuisue, 20. Ratu Meli Derenalagi, 21. Elia Cakanakaivata**, 22. Simione Kuruvoli, 23. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula*.



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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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