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Rugby World Cup: Unforgettable September

This was a complete performance by the Fijians, marked by trademark blistering runs and a dogged defensive line that surprised the Red Dragons.
08 Oct 2019 12:27
Rugby World Cup: Unforgettable September
Flying Fijians loose forward Kele Leawere scored one of the tries against Wales during the 2007 Rugby World Cup pool matches. Leawere’s try helped the Flying Fijians beat Wales 38-34 and advance to the quarterfinal stages to face eventual Cup winners, South Africa.

September 30, 2007 will forever be remembered as one of the most epic dates in Fijian rugby history – the day Fiji shocked Wales in a Rugby World Cup thriller.

Very few saw it coming but the self-belief in the faces of the 15 players that took the field at the Stade de la Beaujoire was evident.

The 38-34 win confirmed Fiji’s place in the quarterfinal for the first time in 20 years, with Wales knocked out of the competition in the process.

Try-scorers Akapusi Qera, Vilimoni Delasau, Kele Leawere and Graham Dewes had key roles in that game but they were far from the only ones.

Household names such as Kameli Ratuvou, the late Seru Rabeni, Seremaia Bai, Sunia Koto, captain Mosese Rauluni and Nicky Little all rose to the occasion, too, as Fiji stunned Wales in Nantes, France.

This was a complete performance by the Fijians, marked by trademark blistering runs and a dogged defensive line that surprised the Red Dragons.

Little spoke to the Daily Mail on Sunday about the atmosphere during that match and the mindset of the team heading into the Pool B decider.

“We weren’t playing for survival; we were playing for a positive end. That’s why the boys did well – we don’t care about much at all – win the game and then it’s onto something else. The mentality was easier,” he said.

They had to work for it, but coach Ilivasi Tabua and his players produced something truly special against a team with far more resources and financial clout.

As the team broke into song huddled together on the half-way line following the win, the entire nation stood with them.

It was a performance for the ages, one that vindicated the believers and turned the doubters into the team’s biggest fans.

Fiji has not beaten the Welsh since that faithful day, drawing 16-16 in 2010 before losing three on the trot in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

Twelve years on from that memorable day, the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians have a chance to repeat the feat in Oita City tomorrow.

Members of the Flying Fijians 2007 Rugby World Cup team that beat Wales in the pool stages to advance to the quarterfinal stages. Sitting (from left) are Sunia Koto and Vilimoni Delasau; kneeling are (from left) Norman Ligairi, Seremaia Bai and Jone Daunivucu. Standing are Vereniki Sauturaga (back holding Fiji flag), Aca Ratuva (front with flag), the late Seru Rabeni (second from right) and Semisi Naevo.

Members of the Flying Fijians 2007 Rugby World Cup team that beat Wales in the pool stages to advance to the quarterfinal stages. Sitting (from left) are Sunia Koto and Vilimoni Delasau; kneeling are (from left) Norman Ligairi, Seremaia Bai and Jone Daunivucu. Standing are Vereniki Sauturaga (back holding Fiji flag), Aca Ratuva (front with flag), the late Seru Rabeni (second from right) and Semisi Naevo.

John McKee’s side doesn’t need to look any further than 2007 for inspiration to beat Wales, even though the scenario is different this time around.

Fiji needs a miracle to reach the next round after the shock 27-30 loss to Uruguay last month, despite thrashing Georgia 45-10 a week later.

Rather than getting into the maths of it, the Dominiko Waqaniburotu-captained side is focussed on causing the third big upset of the 2019 RWC.

In sport, you can only beat what’s in front of you and that is the approach coach McKee is taking to the match.

“Wales will want to finish top of the pool and will want to avoid England in the quarterfinals. All those things are irrelevant to us,” McKee told BBC Sports.

“We know what a good team Wales are and what a challenge playing them will be. For the Flying Fijians, it’s an opportunity to show everyone what we’re capable of.”

Hosts Japan, in their 19-12 upset win over Ireland, showed that the so-called tier 2 nations deserve the respect of bigger teams. Despite the progress the Cherry Blossoms have made in the last five years, nobody expected them to beat one of the best teams in the world.

And when they did, it won the hearts of rugby fans the world over.

Fiji is similarly capable of beating Wales, just like the team in 2007.

Fiji Airways Flying Fijians (from left) captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu, prop Campese Ma’afu, hooker Sam Matavesi, prop Manasa Saulo and loose forward Tevita Cavubati will face Wales tomorrow at the Oita Stadium in Japan. Match kick-off 9:45pm.   Photo: FRU Media

Fiji Airways Flying Fijians (from left) captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu, prop Campese Ma’afu, hooker Sam Matavesi, prop Manasa Saulo and loose forward Tevita Cavubati will face Wales tomorrow at the Oita Stadium in Japan. Match kick-off 9:45pm. Photo: FRU Media

Regardless of what eventuates in Pool D, they have a chance to restore some lost pride with a victory.

The coach and his team were heavily criticised following the loss to Uruguay, who were ranked 10 places below Fiji when the two met in Kamaishi.

A win probably won’t be enough to reach the quarters, but the Flying Fijians will prove they are bigger than one bad day at the office.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedbacksheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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