Although the focus has well and truly shifted back to the club arena following the World Cup, there is still the particularly salivating international fixture of the Barbarians versus Fiji to look forward to.
The Barbarians host Fiji at Twickenham on Saturday in the Killik Cup, with a number veteran international stars set to bid adieu to the game at the highest level in the invitational fixture. This will be the first time the two sides have met since their encounter in 2013 when the Barbarians ran out 43-19 winners.
Rory Best is one of the players involved with the Barbarians, with the former Ireland captain set to play in his last game of professional rugby, whilst Tendai Mtawarira is also included, fresh from his World Cup victory and retirement from international rugby.
While the theme of the Barbarians squad is star power and veteran players, Fiji have had to opt for a much a more inexperienced group due to the game being outside of an international window and the vast majority of their European-based players being unavailable for selection.
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The presence of stalwarts such as Eroni Mawi and Frank Lomani will help the Flying Fijians, although it will take some impressive performances from less-heralded players if they are to pull off an upset and beat the Barbarians at Twickenham. Two such players are Tevita Ikanivere and Osea Waqa.
Ikanivere was the captain of the Fiji under-20 side earlier this year and it is a mark of the impression that the hooker made that he was very close to being included in the senior side’s World Cup squad after being called in to train with the group.
In addition to the attributes he brought as captain of the under-20s, a campaign which saw Fiji beat the odds and avoid the drop back down to the second tier of international age-grade competition, he was also a consistent and effective set-piece hooker, something that Fiji have not always been blessed with.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 7, 2019
He joins an exciting group of young hookers at the nation’s disposal, which include Veremalua Vugakoto, 21, who is also set to be involved against the Barbarians, and Mesu Dolokoto, 24, who has linked up with Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness PRO14.
Alongside Ikanivere, full-back Waqa was another of the stars of the Fijian under-20 campaign this past year and although he was a little further from potential World Cup inclusion due to the array of talent available to Fiji in the back three, he is another budding prospect to keep a very close eye on over the next season or two.
His instincts as a counter-attacker rarely failed him over the past 12 months and he has the handling skills synonymous with Fijian rugby that allow him to create opportunities for the other players around him when he makes his scything breaks.
His kicking game is also effective, and it allowed Fiji to relieve pressure during their under-20 campaign instead of the islanders being forced to run in every situation, something which has seen them come unstuck previously.
Saturday’s game in London should be an intriguing window into the future of the Fiji team, the quality work that has been ongoing in the age-grade pathways on the islands and a valuable opportunity for these youngsters to test themselves against some of the biggest names in rugby.
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