Rugby Sevens: the Game We Love, Fiji Rugby
Waisale Serevi of Fiji during day two of the IRB London 7's Tournament on June 5, 2005 in Twickenham, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Oh so CLOSE

All of Fiji came to a standstill on Saturday morning, as the country tuned in to watch our Flying Fijians take on England in front of a sellout crowd at Twickenham. The atmosphere was electrifying and it set the platform to what many expected to be a hard, entertaining game for Fiji rugby.

The public were so prepared for the match, the masses were still pondering if the 25 minute Opening Ceremony was worthy of all the hype, as really it was nothing spectacular apart from Prince Harry appearing in a short video with Jonny Wilkinson. In fact, the image of Rupeni Caucaunibuca sent a cheer through the Islands and when the national anthem was sung with true pride and passion, tears and emotions flowing in the veins of the Fijian boys; especially Nemani Nadolo, it made you proud to be a Fijian.

The crowd came alive when Fiji began to perform it’s war cry the ‘cibi’ by drowning it out with their un-official rugby anthem ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. It brings the fans to their feet and while many on social media found that offensive, many of them were British. The game then started with both teams making mistakes and soon England pounced on their early opportunities to take the lead. The England team rolling maul was quickly turned into points when Fiji halfback Nikola Matawalu was sent to the bin for pulling the  maul down [questionable decision]) From there England raced to a 15 point lead before Fiji started to crawl its way back.

It was when Matawalu had returned to the park and he created a wonderful try, that was initially allowed by ref Jaco Peyper, but then disallowed by TMO Shaun Veldsman. That was when the game went to a stop-start mode that seemed to kill off what could have been a more entertaining match. Constant referrals to Veldsman by Peyper and vice versa is still the talk of the town here in Fiji as they took out the spirit and momentum of the game.

“It’s frustrating for everyone when those decisions take a little while, but it’s part of the game and the officials have to get those decisions right. It helps for a better result if the correct decisions are made.” John McKee remarked on TMO.

Not only were those delayed decisions the center of attention, but ITV commentator Nick Mullins made a poorly conceived comment that was also widely ridiculed for his misjudged sarcastic comment that “all of Fiji will be watching on one TV”. That insensitive remark soon went viral on social media, with an apology coming from the host broadcaster.

Stuart Lancaster, on the other hand, had little to say as his side benefited from the TMO decisions. “We want accurate decisions”, was his only comment.

This would have been different if England was on the receiving hand I would say.

Overall, the 35-11 score line didn’t really reflect the enormous effort the Fijians put in and Stuart Lancaster was quick to acknowledge that. “Fiji made it difficult at the contact area and competed well at the breakdown. We needed to be more direct and I think we were in the last 20 minutes, when we gave them problems.” He stated that his side “did wonders with our set pieces which was lacking in a very longtime and every keen follower of Fiji rugby would be happy with that. The turnovers in rucks and mauls, line-outs and that decisive scrum pushover that led to Nadolo’s great try”.

The visitors were in that game for 60 minutes, keeping England at bay and trying desperately to break the English defense. “We started well. A couple of scrum penalties we’ll need to have a look at, we didn’t get as much clean balls from the set-piece as we wanted” said Lancaster, and those comments are testimony of the work the Fijian boys put in. Fiji shut them down at the breakdown and contact area, and credit to the boys for doing their job and competing well.

Fiji’s downfall was the lack of execution when they had momentum in the third quarter of the game, “The message at halftime was to be more patient, to play to our systems. When we had some ball and made some phases and I felt we had them under pressure but critical mistakes let us down. At this level, errors cost you dearly” said John McKee. “We were fantastic around the ruck nullifying their pick and drive where Tom Youngs, Tom Wood and big Ben Morgan usually thrive”.

The timely injection from the bench by Lancaster turned the tide their way, with Sam Burgess and Billy Vunipola making great in-roads with their straight runs and offloads. That injection also opened the door for the sly old Mike Brown to do what he does best, find gaps and exploit them. His great back-up resulted in his second try. “We gave away penalties at the breakdown by not rolling away and we’ll have to address those issues. We were too lateral in the first half and needed to be more direct. The guys who came on gave us direction.” said Lancaster.

One aspect of the game this side should have used more was ‘pick and drive’ straight down the line when the lateral attack failed. When Captain Akapusi Qera and Nadolo were running straight, Fiji had the advantage and if they had stayed with such attacking play and then attacked straight off those runners, Fiji we would have England in their toes or may have crossed the tryline more often.

Ben Volavola’s kicking was poor, when we failed to find gaps in the English defense it upset our play and reasons why he wasn’t substituted still baffles me. This is how the team played right into the hands of the English and their ultimate own demise. Sticking with tactics and players that were not effective.

“There’s disappointment in the dressing room. We came in with high ambitions and at times our errors and some critical penalties and turnovers allowed England to come back into the game, and that stopped us building momentum,” John McKee.

With all said and done, the side now look forward to the Australian game come Thursday morning [Fiji time] where our nation again needs to get behind the boys, as anything is possible–as the Japanese team led by Michael Leitch; whose mother hails from the province of Ra in the Western Division of the main island Viti Levu, have shown against the star-studded South African team.

Fiji have to stick to their own systems, play a ‘Fiji brand of rugby’ and do the talking on the field. Play with more vigor, passion and pride for the full 80 minutes. They must minimize mistakes and turn opportunities into points, then we will be good against a hungry Aussie team .

“Our players have a great desire to play and they want to run with the ball to look for opportunities, there’s just times in the game, especially in Tests where we need to be more patient” McKee said. Expect changes to the team as Australia will bring a different approach to the game than England had, that will test our mental strength to another level.

In paying tribute to the Fijian side, Stuart Lancaster made mention that“ Fiji will cause every team problems if I’m honest”.

Patience is Key for the Fijians ahead of Wallabies match

With both camps releasing their team lists, it is evident that this game is going to be an open and fast match, but the real battle will come in the breakdown. This is where Australia has opted for two opensides in David Pocock and Michael Hooper, which was an effective combination in their Rugby Championship win over New Zealand.

Fiji has responded to this by bringing in Netani Talei and Peceli Yato in the backrow, with Tevita Cavubati in the second row and Tuapati Talemaitoga in for Sunia Koto at Hooker. There are changes on the reserves bench too, where John McKee has opted for Nemia Soqeta and Malakai Ravulo, with Viliame Veikoso taking Talemaitoga’s position.

We are in for a real Pacific Rugby war with these line-ups, and with Nemani Nadolo facing first cousin Tevita Kuridrani, there will be no love lost.

The whole country is expecting the team to improve from their first Pool game, with less aimless kicking, more pick-and-drive straight down the line, quick recycle ball and I hope for a ‘water tight’ defence that will rock the Wallabies to the core. Fiji have the talent and this side just need to execute well, play to their own systems and believe in themselves. But most of all, work as a team.

It is now up to fellow Fijian Michael Leitch to hold up the Fiji rugby flag. Can he lead his adopted country to the greatest rugby upset victory of all time?

Good luck boys.

#ForFiji #GoFIJIGo #BOLEA

 

Fiji Rugby “Main Photo:”

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