To kick off a series to preview tier two nations competing at the 2019 World Cup there is no better place to start than Fiji. Almost every rugby fan’s second team, they provide scintillating rugby but rarely make an impact on the biggest stage.
However fortunes may be looking up for Fiji, here we look at their form going into the tournament. In addition, David Challis will also analyse their pool chances as well as what they are likely to achieve going forward.
World Cup History
Fiji have qualified for all but one World Cup, missing out in 1995. During this time they have reached the knockout stages twice. Once in 1987 and again in 2007. Fiji have almost always picked up wins in the tournament with the only exception to this being in 1991 when they emerged winless.
Greatest World Cup Moment
Undoubtedly Fiji’s greatest World Cup match came against Wales in 2007. It was the final game of their Pool and acted as a straight shootout for the knockout stages. Wales were the firm favourites but were blown away by the flying Fijians who earned a famous 38-34 win.
Fiji Rugby World Cup expectations
Fijian Rugby is known to be underfunded and hammered by political issues. This has always hinder their World Cup preparation. However this year things appear to be looking up. Recently they earned a famous win over a star studded Maori All Blacks side. This has sent a real marker down for the World Cup.
However it has not all been plain sailing as they also were defeated by Japan recently. Despite this the amount of time that the Fijian side is spending together pre-World Cup is a vast improvement on previous years. They should be much better prepared come September.
Three Key Players To Watch
Botia has the incredible talent of being able to play in both the backs and the forwards. We do not know whether he will take to the field in centres or the back row at the World Cup for Fiji making him difficult to preview. However Botia’s power and pace has made him a hit wit his club side La Rochelle. Expect him to be a real thorn in the side of all the opposition he comes up against.
Tuisova currently plays for Lyon in the Top 14 after making his name for Toulon. Another powerful individual but this time on the wing. This flying Fijian has got experience at the top level and as a result should have a real impact at the World Cup.
As an explosive back row Kunatani first made his name on the sevens circuit. He was part of the team that won the Olympics in 2016. Since moving to 15s he has played for Toulouse and currently plays for Harlequins. Although he has not quite hit the heights of his sevens career, he has so much potential and raw ability he will be one to watch in Japan.
Fiji have a really tough task in their pool this year. Wales and Australia are going to be really tough to challenge. However they have the pedigree of beating Wales in a World Cup. In addition Australia are not the side they were four years ago. An upset is not off the cards here.
However the rest of the group is not going to be easy for Fiji. They should be able to overcome Uruguay fairly easily. Georgia on the other hand are going to be a much sterner test. This could be a really tight game between two sides of similar levels and with ambition to make a statement at the World Cup.
Overall, you should not write off a Fijian upset at the tournament but a third place pool finish looks most likely.
Going Forward Post World Cup
Fiji probably have some of the most talented players on the planet. If they had the money and infrastructure of a tier one nation they could possibly win a World Cup. However this is not the case and is unlikely to change significantly in the near future.
The Pacific Islands always struggle with the influence of money from European clubs taking their players. Although this is improving with Fiji having more of a say, the problem remains. It’s a long road ahead for Fiji but if they can gradually get the infrastructure off the pitch right the sky really is the limit.
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