Opinion

Let’s Be Realistic With Our Chances

The stakes could not be higher as the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians strap in for what promises to be an enthralling World Cup opener against the Wallabies today.
21 Sep 2019 10:39
Let’s Be Realistic With Our Chances
Fiji Airways Flying Fijians first five eight Ben Volavola sets the backline in motion during the Captain’s run at the Sapporo Dome, Japan on September 20, 2019. Photo: Bruce Southwick/ZoomFiji

The stakes could not be higher as the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians strap in for what promises to be an enthralling World Cup opener against the Wallabies today.

The match at Japan’s popular Sapporo Dome presents both teams with an early opportunity to build some momentum and set the perfect platform for quarterfinal qualification.

There is little doubt that Australia is the heavy favourite in this Pool D encounter.

Australia ran out 28-13 victors the last time the two teams met at the 2015 World Cup in the United Kingdom. Fiji last beat the Wallabies 65 years ago, and have won just twice in 21 matches since 1952.

While Australia historically has been the superior team, anything can happen on game day. Things could change with a mere bounce of the ball, and with the margin for error so thin, both teams will be determined not to commit mistakes.

LOSING THE PNC

John McKee’s Fiji has looked solid in the build-up campaign, despite the hiccup of losing the Pacific Nations Cup to Japan after previously winning it four times in a row.

The team has also been relatively lucky with injuries, with only Kalivati Tawake ruled out from the 31-member squad, and replaced with Leeroy Atalifo.

Atalifo will add depth to one of most powerful Fijian forward packs in recent memory, led by Dominiko Waqaniburotu and the enterprising Leone Nakarawa.

The forwards will be critical to Fiji’s chances against Australia, as seen in last November’s historic 21-14 win against France.

MAMMOTH TASK

It took a mammoth effort by them, led by the ever-vocal Nakarawa, to halt a late French onslaught, especially at scrum time, and earn a rare win against a Tier-1 nation.

McKee has opted to start the 58-cap Campese Ma’afu ahead of usual first-choice Manasa Saulo, who will likely make an appearance in the second-half.

Olympic gold medallist, Semi Kunatani, who trained this past week with a heavily-strapped arm, did not make the matchday squad, in what has been seen as a blow for the side.

FIREPOWER

There is considerable firepower across the backline, too. McKee has retained the midfield pairing of Levani Botia and Waisea Nayacalevu, while Semi Radradra has been moved to the wing.

Nayacalevu and Botia’s prowess in the middle helped Fiji dominate the Maori All Blacks in Suva in July, and the coach will hope the pair can put in a similar shift today.

Another surprise in the backline was the omission of Alivereti Veitokani in favour of Kini Murimurivalu despite the latter’s mixed build-up campaign.

McKee has called this team the best prepared than any other in Fiji’s history and has played down the importance of this game despite the huge expectations in Fiji.

“We have taken the view that we are in a series of four games and the top two teams go through.

It doesn’t ride on one game. There could be a lot of twists and turns in the pool,” he told Reuters.

But even he won’t be able to deny that this team is prone to making mistakes in high pressure situations, which could leave them exposed against Australia.

Finding a balance between playing high-risk rugby and disciplined defensive solidity will be key against a full-strength Australian team.

Any suggestion that Australia was going to take it easy against Fiji has been put to bed by Michael Cheika’s team announcement, particularly with Michael Hooper and David Pocock starting on either side of the scrum.

Cheika’s team has put the 36-0 Bledisloe Cup loss against the All Blacks behind them, and will approach the World Cup opener with laser focus.

Realistically, Fiji’s chances might appear grim. But it speaks volumes about how much Fijian teams has progressively improved at every World Cup that expectations among fans are high.

It will be the shock of the tournament if they are able overcome the overwhelming odds.

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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