SPORTS

With Time Against Us, It’s Now Or Never For Fiji

Fiji have always been entertainers, and there was no shortage of that world-renowned flair against the Wallabies. But it was during scrums and line-outs that the team’s weaknesses came to the surface.
23 Sep 2019 15:17
With Time Against Us, It’s Now Or Never For Fiji
For Fiji...Fiji Airways Flying Fijians before the Australia match at the Sapporo Stadium during their opening match of the RWC 2019.

It never happened in the end, but the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians for a moment seemed to be on the brink of breaking a 65-year jinx against Australia on Saturday.

The Wallabies’ record of not having lost an RWC opener since 1995 looked to be under threat until a controversial yellow card to Fijian inside centre Levani Botia turned the game on its head.

Fiji took a slender 14-12 lead into half-time but lost the influential Peceli Yato to a suspected concussion under what was seen as a shoulder charge by winger Reece Hodge.

It was the first time Australia found themselves behind at the break against a Pacific Island nation since 1961. A major shock was on the cards.

But the John McKee-coached outfit collapsed after Botia was sent to the sin bin, allowing Australia to score 27 unanswered points, after Waisea Nayacalevu’s second-half try opener, and storm to victory.

The yellow card, and referee Ben O’Keeffe’s apparent failure to penalise Hodge for his match-ending charge on Yato, dominated the headlines after the match. But there were many other talking points from the Sapporo Dome that may need to be addressed before the next game against Uruguay on Wednesday in Kamaishi.

Volavola shows class
Fiji’s playmaker-in-chief copped some flak in the lead up to rugby’s showpiece tournament, but silenced those critics with an eye-catching kicking display. Volavola was on point with the boot, particularly in the first-half, allowing his team to exert control and play in the faces of the Aussies.

The 28-year-old outshone Christian Lealiifano and finished the game as the top scorer with 11 points, even as Fiji capitulated in the final 20 minutes. The Racing 92 first five-eighth will be crucial to our chances at this World Cup, provided he can stay fit and consistent.

Technical areas need improvement
Fiji have always been entertainers, and there was no shortage of that world-renowned flair against the Wallabies.

But it was during scrums and line-outs that the team’s weaknesses came to the surface.
Fiji’s tight-five will have to share the blame for a mediocre showing at scrum time and improve for subsequent matches – especially against Georgia and Wales.

They had a much a better showing during line-outs, with Sam Matavesi’s accurate deliveries helping Fiji claim 11 out of 11 and even disrupt a couple of Australian throws.

But Fiji failed to deal with the follow-up driving mauls which cost them dearly, and resulted in decisive tries to Michael Hooper, Reece Hodge and Silatolu Latu. It will be worth noting how the team will approach these areas in the next games.

McKee’s forward conundrum
Peceli Yato’s injury was truly an unfortunate incident.
It came at a time when Fiji was playing their best rugby of the evening – and he was their best performer.

Flanker Viliame Mata would later join Yato on the injury list and both have been ruled out for the Uruguay fixture.

Loose forward Semi Kunatani missed the Australia game through injury and is fighting against time to recover for the must-win Uruguay clash.
That leaves McKee with limited options in the backrow, while the number 8 position is also open.

The team announcement today should offer some insight into how the coach will try and manage the situation.

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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