New generation Fijians pack a punch

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

They’ve always had the flair, but now Fiji coach John McKee says they have the muscle, and the confidence, to topple a Tier One nation.

Fiji, who won its first Olympic medal in Sevens last year, has the upperhand in broken play, with offloads and ball-carrying their specialties across the park.

They’ll have two players from that Rio team on Saturday with lock Leone Nakarawa in the starting team and Viliame Mata set for a debut off the bench.

Mata is one of three debutants in the Fijian 23, with mammoth centre Jale Vatubua and prop Kalivate Tawake in their maiden Test.

Flyhalf Ben Volavola will be a familiar face to many, the former Waratahs now with the Rebels.

Ben Volavola could be the enemy against the Wallabies. Photo: Getty ImagesWhile at times in the past,  Fiji might have been accused of looking like a Sevens team in the XVs realm, with a growing number of players featuring in Europe, that is beginning to change.

“I think maybe the way we used to play was too much like Sevens than XVs and we know that to play the top nations and to be competitive and to win big Test matches you need elements of your play, your set play,” McKee said.

“You do need some organisation to get out of your own end.”

McKee said his team was growing to understand the need for structure, but that structure would be to help his team play to its strengths.

“Certainly if we can create opportunities, I'd back our players,” he said.

“We don't even need an overlap, two-on-two or three-on-three in a 15-20 metre channel, we can cause some problems.

“I think the other advantage is we've got such athletic forwards that if we get players in the wider channels of the game, it doesn't matter what number they've got on their back.

“We've got prop forwards, who've got footwork and can offload as well as some of our backs.”

It’s a danger of which Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is all too aware, emphasising the importance of developing his side’s defence.

“They're unbelievable in creating something out of nothing and that's where - the things that we like to do, which is attack as well, we'll have to take that as a given for a little bit and focus on our defence,” he said.

“I think that's an area in Super Rugby where we've struggled a bit this year and we want to improve that.

“We know that in our team - if we want to be great attackers we've got to be great defenders because that's our insurance policy.”

The Wallabies named their team earlier on Thursday, with captain Stephen Moore relegated to the bench and Ned Hanigan and Karmichael Hunt named for their Test debuts.

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


Fiji to take on the Wallabies

1. Campese Maáfu

2. Sunia Koto

3. Peni Ravai

4. Tevita Cavubati

5. Leone Nakarawa

6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu

7. Naulia Dawai

8. Akapusi Qera ©

9. Nikola Matawalu

10. Ben Volavola

11. Vereniki Goneva

12. Jale Vatubua

13. Albert Vulivuli

14. Timoci Nagusa

15. Kini Murimurivalu


16. Tuapati Talemaitoga

17.Joeli Veitayaki

18. Kalivati Tawake

19. Api Ratuniyarawa

20. Viliame Mata

21. Nemani Nagusa

22. Seurpepeli Vularika

23. Benito Masilevu