Analysis | SPORTS

Replace Volavola With Matavesi, Veitokani

It’s not too late for head coach John McKee to make the change. He could take a leaf out from All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen’s manual when he moved then number one first five Beauden Barrett to fullback to make way for Crusaders first five Richie Mo’unga. Barrett is a natural fullback but has shortcomings as a first five-eighth when the team is under pressure.
03 Sep 2019 12:12
Replace Volavola With Matavesi, Veitokani
Fiji Airways Flying Fijians Josh Matavesi with fans at Nadi International Airport on September 1, 2019. Photo: Waisea Nasokia

Analysis:

The Fiji Airways Flying Fijians need a new solid playmaker as first five at the Rugby World Cup championship in Japan.

It could be either Josh Matavesi or Alivereti Veitokani if they want to reach the quarter-finals and beyond.

Incumbent Ben Volavola’s best position is at fullback in the last 15 minutes of the game. If they are leading by points, he will keep their opponents in their own territory with his long range kicks.

To unleash one of the World Cup’s most potent backlines the Flying Fijians need either Matavesi or Veitokani.

It’s not too late for head coach John McKee to make the change. He could take a leaf out from All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen’s manual when he moved then number one first five Beauden Barrett to fullback to make way for Crusaders first five Richie Mo’unga. Barrett is a natural fullback but has shortcomings as a first five-eighth when the team is under pressure.

The first five is one of the top four positions in a team. The others are number eight, halfback and fullback.

The first five is a pivotal position in any team. He is a playmaker and directs the backline during attacks and defence.

He should also be solid in defence.

This was the Flying Fijians’ weak link on Saturday against the Tongans at Eden Park in Auckland. The Tongans exploited it to their great advantage targeting the inside channel by running straight at Volavola. The tactic gave the Tongans front-foot ball and the momentum to penetrate the wall of white jersey.

This is where Matavesi is affective. He is a strong tackler and passer and will not hesitate to take the ball forward against a rush defence.

Veitokani has vision and is creative. He could spark something from a standing start. He also took over kicking duties from Volavola on Saturday.

If Matavesi starts as first five Veitokani can either move to fullback or the bench as a sub. Specialist fullback Kini Murimurivalu can start and later be substituted by Volavola.

Make no mistake the Fijians’ pool opponents must be rubbing their hands with glee after weaknesses at first five eighth and in trying to stop the rolling mauls were exposed by the Tongans.

Volavola is a no stranger to Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika. Cheika was his coach when he was with the New South Wales Waratahs.

He was given his Super Rugby debut by Cheika in 2013 and played seven games, but was then overlooked for the next two seasons, despite being a fulltime member of the Waratahs squad. Volavola then moved to the Crusaders then rebels where he played as a reserve fullback until he moved to France.

The Flying Fijians meet the Wallabies in their opening game on September 21.

So they still have time to fine-tune their combination. Many teams are wary of the firepower in the Fijian backline. They have learned from Saturday’s performance.

If the Flying Fijians want to upset the Wallabies and Wales they have to play either Matavesi or Veitokani at first five and find a solution to stop the rolling maul.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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