With the 2015 Rugby World Cup fast approaching, Last Word on Sports looks back at how the participating nations have fared in the previous seven tournaments from the inaugural in 1987 to the most recent in 2011. Today’s focus is Fiji, who have appeared at six of the seven previous Rugby World Cups.
Rugby World Cup History: Fiji
Fiji attended the first World Cup as one of the nine invited nations, who joined the seven International Rugby Football Board members at the tournament. Drawn in Pool 3 with Argentina, Italy and New Zealand, Fiji got off to a great start defeating Argentina 28-9. New Zealand proved too strong for Fiji in their second game as the All Blacks ran out 74-13 winners. A 18-13 defeat to Italy left Fiji, Italy and Argentina all on one win and two points, with Fiji progressing, having scored the most tries. Fiji faced France in the quarter finals but were unable to match Les Bleus, going down 31-16 and were eliminated.
By reaching the quarter finals in 1987, Fiji qualified automatically for the 1991 Rugby World Cup. Drawn in Pool D with Canada, France and Romania, Fiji were upset in their opening match against Canada, losing 13-3. Things didn’t get any better in their second game against France as Les Bleus were 33-9 winners. A narrow 17-15 defeat to Romania in their final game rounded out a miserable winless World Cup for the Fijians.
After being eliminated in the pool stages in 1991, Fiji would have to come through a regional qualifier to reach the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. Facing Tonga in a two-legged home and away tie, Fiji lost the home leg 24-11. Despite managing to win the away leg in Tonga 15-10, it was not enough to overturn their first leg deficit, as Tonga advanced to the finals 34-26 on aggregate.
Seeded into round two of Oceanic qualifying for the 1999 World Cup, Fiji defeated both Tonga and The Cook Islands to advance to round three. Despite losing their opening game in round three to Australia, wins against Tonga and Western Samoa were enough to see Fiji qualify for the finals. Drawn in Pool 3 with Canada, France and Namibia, Fiji opened their tournament with a comfortable 67-18 win over Namibia. Fiji then gained revenge over Canada for their 1991 defeat winning 38-22. As with their two previous meetings against France at the Rugby World Cup, Fiji were unable to defeat Les Bleus as the French ran out 28-19 winners leaving Fiji in second place in the pool. Finishing second in the pool meant Fiji would have to compete in the playoff round to reach the quarter final. Facing off against England, Fiji were knocked out with the English securing a 45-24 victory.
To qualify for the 2003 World Cup, Fiji faced Tonga and Samoa in their Oceanic qualifying group. Winning both their games against Tonga and splitting their matches with Samoa one apiece, Fiji topped the group on points difference to advance to the finals. At the finals in Australia, Fiji faced France, Japan, Scotland and USA in Pool B. In their first match Fiji were up against familiar foe France, unfortunately it was also a familiar result, with the French victorious. Fiji bounced back in their second game edging the USA 19-18 in a tight affair. A 41-13 win over Japan set up Fiji with the chance to qualify for the quarter finals if they could overcome Scotland in their final game. Despite a brave performance from Fiji, Scottish prop Tom Smith broke Fijian hearts, scoring a try two minutes from time to put the Scots through to the quarter finals and send the Fijians home.
As in 2003 Fiji would face Samoa and Tonga in Oceanic qualifying, and as in 2003 it was two victories against Tonga and one win and one loss against Samoa. On this occasion though it was Samoa who boasted the better points difference to top the group, however second place was still good enough to see Fiji qualify for the Finals. Fiji faced Australia, Canada, Japan and Wales in Pool B, and got off to a good start defeating Japan 35-31 in their opening match, before following that up with a 29-16 win over Canada. Fiji were then unable to overcome Australia in their next match as the Wallabies won 55-12. As in 2003 a win in their final pool match, this time against Wales, would take Fiji into the quarter finals, and like four years previous it would be a try just minutes from time that settled the match. However on this occasion it was Fiji’s Graham Dewes that provided the late drama, crossing the whitewash in the 77th minute to eliminate the Welsh and send Fiji through. Fiji faced South Africa in the quarter finals, however the Springboks proved too good for Fiji winning 37-20 to end the Fijians campaign.
After reaching the quarter finals in 2007 Fiji qualified automatically for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, and would face Namibia, Samoa, South Africa and Wales. Fiji got off to a good start defeating Namibia 49-25. A heavy defeat to South Africa in their second game was followed up by a 27-7 defeat to Pacific Nations Cup rival Samoa. Fiji then finished their World Cup with a 66-0 defeat to Wales, as the Welsh enacted revenge for their defeat four years earlier.
Fiji are an inconsistent side when it comes to the Rugby World Cup. Very capable of mixing it with the bigger nations, and even on occasion upsetting them (see Wales 2007), they have been just as likely to be looking at an early exit as they are at qualify for the knockout stages. Finding themselves in Pool A with Australia, England and Wales, Fiji will have to be at their very best if they are to reach the quarter finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
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