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Fiji Set Pace: Graham Henry

Fiji Set Pace: Graham Henry
Vodafone Flying Fijians team with fans and supporters.
October 07
10:45 2015

Fiji have confirmed their status as Pacific rugby’s pacesetters during this World Cup, with critics labelling arch-rival Samoa’s campaign “shameful” and Tonga displaying indifferent form.

Fiji and Samoa have already been eliminated while Tonga’s only hope of survival rests on them staging an unlikely win over the All Blacks on Friday.

On paper, Fiji have been the worst of the Pacific trio, losing all three opening pool games and facing the prospect of a winless campaign unless they overcome Uruguay today.

But the Fijians were unlucky to be drawn in the aptly named “Pool of Death”, forcing them to face three top teams – England, Wales and Australia – in 13 days.

They were competitive against all of them, prompting a sparkling review from World Cup-winning former New Zealand coach Graham Henry.

“The Fijians have been superb. I know they got beaten three in a row, but they’ve given every team a hurry-up,” he told commercial radio.

“The coach (John) McKee has done a fabulous job, he’s turned that forward pack around. Fiji never used to play in the forwards, they had 15 backs.

“Now they’re beating Australia, Wales and England in the scrum, which is unbelievable.”

In contrast, Samoa have proved a disappointment at this year’s tournament, failing to repeat the giant-killing exploits of previous editions.

After a tame 46-6 capitulation to South Africa, a shock 26-5 loss to Japan sealed their fate.

“Wrong selections, poor discipline and the absence of leadership took their toll,” the island nation’s main newspaper, the Samoa Observer, said.

Samoa’s dream of a quarter-final berth had been “shamefully crushed”, it added, lamenting “what has so far been a woeful World Cup campaign for the men in blue”.

Tonga have also proved underwhelming, although they arguably did not enter the tournament with the expectations surrounding their Pacific neighbours.

The Sea Eagles were ambushed 17-10 in their opening fixture against Georgia and struggled to overcome Namibia before surrendering to Argentina.

Tonga Rugby chairman Epi Taione said after the Georgia match that it was difficult for the Pacific island nations to compete when governing body World Rugby excluded them from the game’s finances and power structure.

He said Tonga was expected to survive on grants of $1million (DH3.67 million) a year and the three Pacific nations had one vote between them on World Rugby’s governing council, while the likes of Scotland and Ireland have two votes apiece.

“Until they’re willing to give up power, nothing will change,” he told the New Zealand Herald, railing against the “colonialist” mindset of the sport’s hierarchy.

“Until they evenly distribute the resources, they’re going nowhere… considering the way we’re treated, we compete very well.”

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