Opinion | Rugby

Raevenn Breen: A Good Playmaker Makes System Tick

Why? Simply because we didn’t have the right playmaker on the day and my argument can be further strengthened after Fiji’s incredible match against the Barbarians last weekend
20 Nov 2019 15:16
Raevenn Breen: A Good Playmaker Makes System Tick
Teti Tela. Photo: Ian Muir
  • Raevenn Breen is a former Fiji SUN sports journalist now studying in London and an avid Fijian rugby fan. He was in Japan during the Rugby World Cup and at Twickenham over the weekend for the Barbarians-Flying Fijians clash


As a die-hard fan of Fijian rugby going into the World Cup this year with high expectations, I was not expecting the squad to have dropped out of the cup in the fashion that they had.

It led me to ask even more questions about the squad and the FRU’s selection process after last weekend’s Killik Cup performance against the Barbarians, where the new-look squad came away from Twickenham victorious.

If you asked any Fijian before the 2019 World Cup, I guarantee everyone would have told you that we would have come out victorious over Georgia and Uruguay while remaining silent but positive about our matches against Wales and Australia.

No one was expecting Fiji to lose to Uruguay and clearly not our coach John McKee.

The result of that loss meaning that Fiji’s World Cup fate was sealed coming in third after Wales and Australia in the pool stages.

Many were quick to blame McKee for fielding Fiji’s B-squad in the Uruguay match – putting key players on the bench and allowing the reserves and even players who weren’t in the starting 23 to have a run on the pitch on game day. Players like first five-eighth Ben Volavola, a key playmaker in the Fijian squad, was benched.

Did McKee really underestimate the South-Americans that much?

Despite the shocking number of changes, the squad put on a decent performance but still threw crucial points away from making too many errors; two of the most notable were the failed conversion attempts from Matavesi from right in front of the posts.

We had all the statistics on our side more clean breaks, all the possession (59 per cent) and yet it wasn’t enough.

Why? Simply because we didn’t have the right playmaker on the day and my argument can be further strengthened after Fiji’s incredible match against the Barbarians last weekend.

After a 49-year dry spell against the invitational Barbarians FC team, we finally managed to beat them.

It was a thriller of a match that showcased some of the best rugby I’d ever seen in my 18 years of watching the sport.

We had dominated the majority of the match – leading 14-12 at the break and whacking a further 19 points on the board, bringing the game to 33-17 before the Baa-baas decided to push for a comeback in the last ten minutes.

We played brilliantly

Many fans said that the significant difference was the fact that 13 of the players were brought in from the very successful  Fiji Airways Fijian Drua squad which plays in the Australian National Rugby Championship.

Although I also believe this to be a factor in the team’s victory, I noticed one major difference in the Fijian game. We were kicking the ball much more than our usual passing and offloading tactic and we were actually converting tries from difficult positions on the pitch; a style of play many know to be a rare sight in Fijian rugby.

It made me look back and think about the last time we had a good playmaker like Teti Tela, who   played a crucial part in Fiji’s victory – converting all four out of five tries (the fifth attempt was not made by him but by fullback Enele Malele) and I honestly couldn’t think of anyone apart from Nicky Little.

Little played his last World Cup for Fiji in 2007. Between his 1996 debut in Pretoria and 2011, he made 71 appearances for Fiji and scored a total of 670 points, as of November 2019 he is the  second-highest points scorer in the Pacific Rim, 41 points shy of Japan’s Ayumu Goromaru.

Tela’s ability to convert Fiji’s tries on the weekend showed us all just how important it is to have a decent No.10 in the starting XV.

Had he or Volavola been fielded on game-day against Uruguay, could that have made the difference?

I mention Volavola because he too is a great No.10 which he demonstrated in our shock win against France in 2018 and his 2015 and 2019 RWC performances.

Aside from his 100 per cent conversion rate, Tela also put five points on the board through a successful offensive play with Enele Malele in the first half, scoring a try only moments after Malele had. Although he’d only just debuted for Fiji last weekend he’s looking to be a very promising player.

Good playmaker makes a difference

I believe that a good playmaker can make all the difference in a game of rugby and I’ll use another example. Faf De Klerk who featured in South Africa’s RWC 2019 winning squad, played at halfback and was a huge part of the Springbok’s victory.

His ability to recycle the ball quickly, box kick the ball into enemy territory and set up the ball for his forwards proved to be an unmatched factor and it cemented him in as an important mechanism in the Bokke’s rugby machine.

Tela plays a similar style – kicking the ball deep into opposition territory to then set up decisive line-outs, making successful offensive plays with the backline rather than hanging back for someone else to set up the play, and tactfully kicking the ball from wing to wing confusing enemy defence.

Tela currently plays for the Queensland Reds (2018-) in Super Rugby and the Fijian Drua (2019-). He has displayed an incredible class of rugby for both the teams’ rugby campaigns and I believe he tried to emulate his own performance in the Drua when he debuted for Fiji on Saturday.

My only hope is for the FRU’s selection committee and coaches to take our victory against the Barbarians on board, and maybe change tactics for future matches to make more use of the likes of Tela.

Edited by Osea Bola


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