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The Tier 1 side Fiji should have beat and the England star Cotter may want

By Chris Jones
Fiji front row forwards including Sam Matavesi ( centre ) New Zealand All Blacks v Fiji. Rugby Union test match at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand. Saturday 10 July 2021. © Mandatory photo credit: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

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Head coach Vern Cotter has given his verdict on the 2021 international season that saw Fiji miss an “enormous opportunity” to beat Wales on their European tour that saw him stuck in New Zealand.

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Cotter and the rest of the Fijian coaching group were unable to travel to Europe due to the pandemic for the win over Spain 43-13 , the 38-23 loss to Wales and 15-15 draw with Georgia with Gareth Baber, the former sevens gold medal winning coach taking charge of a European based squad for the matches.

According to Cotter the main challenge heading into 2022 – a year before the Rugby World Cup in France- is to “ develop new habits that will give us more opportunities to be competitive at the top level.”

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With just one win from the five tests in 2021, Cotter reflected on a difficult year and told SUNSports: “Not being able to travel to Europe following the series against the All Blacks was hard for me and our coaching group. There are so many learnings that need to be pursued; concentration, discipline, tight 5 work in dark places, confidence in our strengths to be worked on.

“We need to believe in our ability; take away everything we give to the opposition like penalties and yellow cards and we need to developing lucidity in pressure situations and so on. But we thrive on challenges!

“There was great energy and purpose in the first match (lost 57-23) against the All Blacks – we got close but we don’t realise yet the potential we have. The leadership from Levani Botia was great; he is a hard-nosed warrior and sets a good example.

“In the Second All Blacks (lost 60-13) test we pushed during the week for the team to improve. Disappointing performance really because we set high standards, the All Blacks picked their best team and we didn’t lift our game to match them. There were too many errors.

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“There was not enough maturity within the group to grasp the importance of backing up two top performances. On a positive note, some young players showed talent and character. (Moses) Sorovi, Teti (Tela), (Eroni) Mawi, (Seta) Tuicuvu to name a few. Against Wales, I believe there was an enormous opportunity to win, they we not at their best but once again we gave them enough to let the game slide from our grasp.

“The physical power we generate is impressive, teams struggle with it. Let’s be clear if we can keep work rate and accuracy for 80 minutes we will be difficult to beat. But, against Georgia, it was disappointing.”

With former England No8 Nathan Hughes showing interest in switching to Fiji under the new World Rugby regulations, Cotter could have an influx of new players heading into the 2023 Rugby World Cup. He added: “The change in eligibility rules for players is exciting for Fiji rugby and will provide more depth and competition for positions going to the Rugby World Cup 2023.

“Super Rugby (featuring Fiji Drua) will give us a number of players, it is the competition we need to perform consistently in.”

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Cotter singled out three players for special mention for their form in 2021 saying: “Botia for his character and competitiveness; Waisea (Nayacalevu) for his role as captain and try scorer in Europe and (Sam) Matavesi for his core skills and consistency.”

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