'We are going to have to buy them New Zealand passports'
With many European-based professionals, Fiji were able to physically shake the All Blacks, rattling them with big hits and forcing untold amounts of turnovers at the breakdown. In attack, they were more than a handful scoring three tries which could have been more had the execution been more clinical.
Fiji head coach Vern Cotter said a defining moment in the game was when Fiji lost their halfback Simione Kuruvoli in the 51st minute with the game in the balance, requiring reserve utility back Setareki Tuicuvu to play the pivotal role.
“As soon as we lost our halfback, we lost a fair bit of our shape. That’s fair to say. It was unfortunate, we had a fullback who then had to go into halfback,” Cotter explained.
“If we had been able to maintain fast ball and vary those points of attack by having a quick release around the ruck, we could’ve scored a few more points.
Fiji were reduced to rely on Tuicuvu, who usually plays fullback for his French club Clermont, after their Australian-based halfbacks were stuck due to border restrictions. Frank Lomani, Mosese Sorovi and Teti Tela were unable to travel to New Zealand with the latest outbreak across the ditch.
That situation has left Cotter scratching his head for solutions and he said he was ‘scouring’ the country for 9s who could represent Fiji next week, even jokingly asking if the All Blacks want to lend one.
“We are going to have to buy them New Zealand passports, I don’t know how we are going to do that. We are scouring the country looking for halfbacks, so if the All Blacks want to lend us one for next week, we’ll take it.”
The rest of Fiji’s squad who were able to enter the country were dealing with travel fatigue said Cotter. The last 20-minute period where the All Blacks ran away with the game was in some part down to a number of the players coming all the way from Europe.
“I think the travel from Europe, you could see at the end we were getting tired, a few gaps opened up. So I don’t know, it is something we can look at, we can perhaps get fitter,” he said.
“It is an endless season for a lot of these players based in Europe. There is a massive fatigue element with that. It’s just something we need to look at, and work on.”
Despite the challenges, Cotter was confident his team would turn up and give the All Blacks some trouble. The strong culture within the squad was a uniting factor, and the challenge laid in front of them was a motivating one.
“We knew they were up for it. You have to when you play the All Blacks, and they hadn’t played them for 10 years,” he said.
“I think probably the culture with these boys, it’s such a strong culture and they care for each other. Having a challenge like the All Blacks in front of them federated what they already had naturally, made us stronger.
Cotter was pleased with the ‘building block’ performance, with a few fixes required to other points of the game that gave the All Blacks too much.
“From that point of view, we knew they were going to fight right til the end. They didn’t disappoint us. And then there are the strategic parts of the game that we need to sort out, some handling parts of the game we need to sort out.
“The fact that we are together and put that sort of performance out is promising. They are good players.”
Fiji’s spirited and competitive showing for most of the match furthers the discussion around whether they can match it with Tier 1 opposition more frequently. After an impressive showing at the World Cup two years against Australia and Wales, Fiji once again showed they are capable opposition.
Cotter said that their performance against the All Blacks proved they had what it takes for more quality games, and that they will only improve from such competition.
“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.
“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.
“To see them more often against good teams, it will be great.
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