Matawalu: We Mean Business

London: England face the Fijians in their opening match in the so-called Pool of Death at Twickenham on September 19 and Red Rose boss Stuart Lancaster has expressed admiration for
22 Aug 2015 09:42
Matawalu: We Mean Business
Vodafone Flying Fijians half back Nikola Matawalu (left) and Taleimaitoga Tuapati during the training at Bidesi grounds yesterday. Photo: Rama

London: England face the Fijians in their opening match in the so-called Pool of Death at Twickenham on September 19 and Red Rose boss Stuart Lancaster has expressed admiration for the newly crowned Pacific Nations Cup champions following their fine 39-29 win over Samoa.

Lancaster said: “People underestimate Fiji. They were very impressive in the Pacific Nations Cup and if you put the most talented Fijian athletes together and give them good coaching and an opportunity to build, they’re going to be a huge threat.”

The Pacific Islanders have been doing just that and Matawalu, who joins Bath next season after leading Glasgow to Pro12 success in May, insists his fast improving side can follow Fiji’s ‘Class of 2007’ by reaching the World Cup quarterfinals.

Matawalu told The Rugby Paper: “History is history but this is a new team and while we respect England, Wales and Australia, when it comes to the games we mean business at this World Cup.

“If we get our mentality right, it will be a good tournament for us and we are quite content with our Pool draw. It’ll be hard for the team and they’ll all be cup finals for us, but they’ll be good, open games and we think we can win them.

“England will be good in our opening match and we will have to defend very well, but I can’t wait for it, especially playing against some of my new Bath colleagues.

“If we are focused and concentrate well in each game, anything can happen in a World Cup. We’ve qualified for the quarter-finals before, so why not again?”

No fewer than 18 members of Fiji’s 38-man training squad ply their trade in the top leagues of Europe and the Southern Hemisphere, with standout performers such as Vereniki Goneva, Nemani Nadolo and Akapusi Qera blocking England’s path.

Matawalu, 26, reckons that elite experience is invaluable, adding: “Playing for Glasgow has helped me prepare for the World Cup, especially playing regularly against the top players from Wales, Ireland, England and France in the Pro12 and Champions Cup.

“A lot of our guys are now playing in the Top 14, Premiership and Super Rugby so between us we know quite a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the teams we will be playing and that’s going to help us prepare mentally for the task.

“The calibre of player involved in Fiji now is much higher than it was four years ago in New Zealand, where we had a very disappointing tournament.

“Most of us are used to playing at the highest level and we’ve had a chance to test a lot of our combinations in the Pacific Nations Cup, so it’s a very talented squad and it’s going to be very interesting come September time.”

Matawalu was a schoolboy when Fiji dramatically knocked out Wales to reach the quarter-finals eight years ago in France, where they pushed eventual champions South Africa hard before losing a thrilling encounter 37-20 in Marseille.

He recalled: “2007 was a huge World Cup for Fiji and it was the first time we’d ever made the quarterfinals. To beat Wales was a massive moment for the whole country and everyone was out in the streets celebrating for hours afterwards.

“We had a very experienced squad then and something similar is happening now.

“We’re lucky to have guys like Akapusi Qera and Seremaia Bai around, who played in 2007, and that experience will stand us in very good stead for this World Cup.”

Matawalu is after a new personal landmark, adding:

“I was the first guy in my village to play for Fiji and it was always my ambition to do that and then play for a professional team abroad.

“I’ve done both those things and my next dream is to play at a World Cup, so I’m going to keep working hard and look forward to that opening game.

“There will be millions of people watching and I can’t wait to play against England at Twickenham.”



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