Pressure on Fiji-born Wallabies: McKee

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Fiji coach John McKee says all the pressure will be on Australia’s Fijian-born players come Saturday afternoon.

McKee, who will be a familiar face for many of the Wallabies’ new breed having been a U20s assistant in 2013, said the clash would be more significant than any other for the Fijian Wallabies.

The Wallabies have five Fijian-born players in their mix this weekend, originally six before Samu Kerevi’s withdrawal - Henry Speight, Marika Koroibete, Eto Nabuli, Sefa Naivalu and Tevita Kuridrani.

McKee said the homeland connection would make things more interesting for the Aussies on Saturday.

“It's interesting for the Fijian players playing for Australia - I think this Test match is different and I think the pressure will be on them because they're playing against their own country,” he said.

NRL convert Marika Koroibete could be in with a chance to his home country on Saturday. Photo: Walmsley“It's not like playing for Australia against New Zealand or Argentina or South Africa or anyone else.

“That's quite a different game for them - this game, knowing the Fijian people and what it means to them around representing their country and their families, which is a big motivating force for our players.

“I think it'll put a little bit of pressure back on the Fijians playing for Australia because this game is different."

Two of those Fijian Wallabies were qualified under World Rugby’s three-year residency rule in recent years - with Henry Speight and Sefa Naivalu the beneficiaries.

That law has now stretched out to five years, a move that McKee said would be unequivocally good for rugby, and one that has clearly been designed to help the Pacific Islands retain their talent at the national level.

“It'll be harder for countries to almost warehouse players or harder for players to go I'll just sit out for three years and take my chances,” he said.

“I think five years you’ll see more players committing to their original country of eligibility.

“There's a lot of Pacific players growing up in New Zealand and Australia now (but) for those players who move on a professional contract - Nathan Hughes now playing for England and England have just picked up a couple of other players who have been there just for the three eligibility years.

“Is that right for the game? I don't think so and that's reflected in the new regulation changes.”

For his players, the Australian Fijians are their foe, lock Leone Nakawara said.

“They are our enemy and then after the game we can call them as Fijians again,” he said.

McKee has his own Australian connection, having begun his coaching career in Melbourne in the 90s, before moving to Sydney and working with the ARU Academy and U20s.

Returning as a coach to Melbourne, McKee said things were quite different the first time around.

“It was different era, pre-professional era,” he said.

“There's always been quite a healthy club competition down here and a mixture of local guys that came through the rugby schools but also a strong ex-pat community around the rugby as well.”

The Wallabies take on Fiji on Saturday, kicking off at 3pm AEST, LIVE on  FOX SPORTS.