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'The Islands are the future': Fiji ready for expanded Rugby Championship

By Sam Smith
Ben Volavola. All Blacks v Fiji, Steinlager Series, international rugby union test match. Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand. Saturday 10 July 2021. © Copyright Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

In their first match against the All Blacks since 2011, Fiji on Saturday evening produced a thoroughly entertaining and competitive performance in Dunedin, only succumbing to a 57-23 defeat after a ruthless final quarter by the home side.

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The Flying Fijians brought physicality, structure and tempo to the test and troubled the All Blacks for the best part of an hour. The side’s lack of preparation time as a squad leading up to the test seemingly did not show, as some nicely worked interchanges saw them rack up three tries in 60 minutes.

Considering some of the names missing from the Fijian squad for this two-test Steinlager Series with the All Blacks, head coach Vern Cotter will most likely be pleased with how his side represented themselves, both on and off the pitch on Saturday.

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Foster praises physical Fijian side | All Blacks post-match press conference

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Foster praises physical Fijian side | All Blacks post-match press conference

The likes of Semi Radradra (included in the Fijian sevens squad for the Tokyo Olympics), Lyon’s Josua Tuisova and Edinburgh’s Viliame Mata all superstar names missing from the roster this time around. Not to mention players included in Cotter’s squad unable to make the journey from Australia to meet up with the team due to COVID-19 outbreaks – Frank Lomani, Mosese Sorovi and Teti Tela all desperately unlucky to miss out this time around.

Since their last clash with the All Blacks at Carisbrook back in 2011, Fiji have gone on to register wins over Scotland and France, and have also proved very competitive at both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

With Japan looking to further their potential as a rugby nation off the back of a pool-topping outing at their home World Cup in 2019 by expanding into The Rugby Championship by 2024, fans were quick to suggest Fiji should follow them in a ‘Southern 6 Nations’ type competition.

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Fiji’s head coach Vern Cotter argued his side had shown enough to warrant more games against Tier 1 opposition, with just eight points separating Fiji from the All Blacks heading into the final twenty-odd minutes.

“If you can get those games more often, you get to measure yourself against the best teams more often, you will improve. That kind of competition does improve them,” he said.

“I think they’ve shown enough in this game to be offered opportunities to play those games, I hope so. It will be a great challenge to further develop the Fijian talent.

“There is some talent from the Island that need exposure. There are a lot of things to develop Fiji Rugby to be up there, but they’ve got amazing, explosive athletes. And it is a joy to watch them play.

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“To see them more often against good teams, it will be great.”

Currently, Fiji compete in the Pacific Nations Cup, a tournament aimed at improving the competitiveness of tier-two nations. They have won the competition five times in the last decade.

The topic of promotion and relegation is a frequent point of discussion for fans and pundits of the Six Nations, which begs the question whether Fiji, with its host of European superstars, would benefit from inclusion into The Rugby Championship for regular competition against tier-one opposition.

 

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Wonton 6 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

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N
Nick 7 hours ago
How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp

Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

22 Go to comments
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