Opinion | SPORTS

Why Is Fiji Treated so Badly in the World of Rugby?

“Let’s not forget this team was written off, and we will be written off again going to Paris,” Borthwick said
19 Oct 2023 17:54
Why Is Fiji Treated so Badly in the World of Rugby?
Flying Fijians hurdle after their quarter-final loss against England 24-30 on October 16, 2023 in France. Photo: FRU Media

Fiji have been the best team to watch at the World Cup – why does rugby treat them so badly?

Teams from outside the elite of world rugby continue to struggle financially and tier-one sides won’t even play against them.

“Everyone’s second-favourite team.”

That was the rather patronising epithet ascribed to Fiji after they were knocked out of the Rugby World Cup on Monday (Fiji time). They deserved better.

But in truth they would be more than happy to be more people’s second-favourite team, including those in charge of rugby union.

Because at present, Fiji, and everything they represent in rugby, are a lot further down the pecking order.

The irony is that it is only these “plucky losers” who make the tournament feasible by providing opposition for the big boys of world rugby. But now that we’ve reached the business end of the World Cup, the established elites can stop pretending to care about Fiji, Tonga, Portugal et al for another four years.

And yet after dispatching the last of what World Rugby might prefer to call “the rest”, Steve Borthwick, coach of an England team whose union turn over £200m (FJ$561m) a year, was the one claiming the world was against him.

“Let’s not forget this team was written off, and we will be written off again going to Paris,” Borthwick said

“I don’t really care what other people think of us. I care about the development of the team.”

Fiji’s players hug at the end of the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Fiji at the Stade de Marseille in Marseille, France, Sunday on October 15, 2023. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Shop window

His opposite number Simon Raiwalui does not have the luxury of not caring what other people think. What other people think is what defines Fiji’s future in the game.

“We have to put ourselves in the shop window with our performance and if we’ve got that infrastructure, we’ve got success, consistent success,” Raiwalui said.

“When the opportunity comes up, hopefully we will get a chance, but if we concentrate on the long term, instead of getting the short term right, you tend to trip up on yourself.

“We have to be proud of the last four years, and before that, eight years, what we’ve built in Fiji and I think it’s is there for long term success and sustainability. So if the opportunity does come up, but hopefully we’ve put ourselves in the front of the window.”

“They’ve built something for the next generation of Fijian rugby players. They’ve laid the foundation there that we can grow.”

World Rugby will point to the introduction of Fijian Drua into Super Rugby, which receives – together with Moana Pasifika – £1.2m (FJ$3.4m) of annual funding from World Rugby, as well as direct cash injections into the high performance schemes of the countries involved. But let us just remember those RFU figures: £200m (F$561m) a year in turnover, yet the entire rugby world can only spare £1.2m ($F3.4m) to make sure it is played professionally by more than 10 countries.

Fiji fly-half Vilimoni Botitu (right) celebrates scoring a try against England with captain Waisea Nayacalevu (centre) and flanker Levani Botia (left). Photo: AFP

Haves, have-nots

Charles Piutau, a former All Black who now plays for Tonga, says he has learned the difference between the haves and the have-nots since making his debut for the country of his parents last year.

“It’s the lack of resources. We come into the Tonga team and we hardly have any kit, one pair of shorts to train for the week, always having to wash everything every day,” Piutau said.

“We might not have snacks to replenish ourselves after a gym session. Sometimes we might have to cover our own flights to get to training camps. I think sometimes all of those off-field things can add up.

“Before we started in the Rugby World Cup camp, we were struggling to find rugby balls. We were using replicas from the regular shop and it wasn’t the real thing.

“What I have been a part of before with the All Blacks set-up, all you needed to worry about was playing that game and doing your role in that jersey. You could come (to training) naked and end up with enough clothes that you don’t need anything – and get a watch.”

Piutau was talking after a 59-16 defeat to Ireland in Nantes in which his side showed some of their naivety against the world No 1 team. It is hardly a surprise: it was only their fourth clash with a tier-one nation since 2019, and all of those had come in 2019.


“It happens every campaign. We go on three, four-week campaigns and the last game’s always our best game because we’ve had more time together and we’ve played some opposition,” said Toutai Kefu, Tonga’s departing head coach, after their final pool-stage match against South Africa.

His parting shot for World Rugby was an uncomplicated plea for more opportunity and funding.

“There are two simple things: we get to spend more time together, more preparation time, and the other one is playing more competitive games,” Kefu added.

“We play six games a year and maybe one or two tier-one games in that block. What do the tier-one teams play? They play more than 15, 20. It’s hard to compete against teams who are really well-oiled machines.”

There are willing lip-servants in the game to that cause.

“The more opportunities to play in bigger games, the better they’re gonna be,” said Andy Farrell, probably the northern hemisphere’s best coach.

“I know that they speaking to them they would have loved to have tier one nations played in a warm-up game but that wasn’t to be.”

From left Vilimoni Botitu, Albert Tuisue (standing) and Semi Radradra after the last whistle of their quarter-final loss to England on October 16, 2023 in France..
Photo: FRU Media

World league

The phrase “wasn’t to be” doesn’t really cut it in the circumstances: Ireland’s RWC meeting with Tonga was the first time in 20 years that they had come up against them. Why not pick up the phone?

You can tell the same story over and over again too, but just switch out the names: Samoa, Uruguay, Chile and Portugal all produced performances worthy of the global stage in this tournament, but will not feature on it again until 2027.

And you cannot dismiss their claims by pointing out that most did not make it out of the group. This is a seven-week tournament that, were they not there at all, would be half as long and nowhere near as entertaining. Desperate to appear in that “shop window”, they almost all produced historically good performances, like Portugal’s first ever win at a World Cup or Uruguay’s spirited effort against home favourites France in Lille.

And yet World Rugby plans to narrow its focus, rather than broaden it. The “World League”, due to start in 2026, will provide a quadrennial dovetail with the World Cup. Reports state that it will feature the Six Nations teams in one group and the Rugby Championship countries in another, with two “invited guests”, likely to include Japan, making up the numbers.

So that’s one place at the top table for nations who have lit up France with their endeavour and their pride over the last two months, while the rest continue to starve on the measly scraps that the gluttons of England, Ireland, New Zealand and the rest allow to fall to the floor.

With concussion lawsuits and an ever-expanding sports entertainment market, rugby is at a crossroads that will challenge its very existence. It cannot afford to keep ignoring its best assets.

Flying Fijians players (from left) Luke Tagi, Tevita Ikanivere, Eroni Mawi and captain Waisea Nayacalevu sing the national anthem prior to their Rugby World Cup France quarter-final against England at Stade Velodrome on October 16, 2023 (Fiji time) in Marseille, France. Photo: World Rugby

By: JamesGray

  • James Gray is a sports news correspondent for the i newspaper and inews.co.uk. He covers major on and off-field developments in tennis, F1, football, rugby and boxing, and covers the Olympics patch. He previously freelanced for the Metro, Eurosport and talkSPORT and before that was a sports reporter for the Daily Express.

Advertise with us

Get updates from the Fiji Sun, handpicked and delivered to your inbox.

By entering your email address you're giving us permission to send you news and offers. You can opt-out at any time.