Take the Fijians lightly at your peril: Hickey

by Sam Phillips

Take the Fijians lightly at your peril.

That's the message from former Waratahs coach and Drua consultant Chris Hickey, who has seen the rise of the fabulous Fijians first hand.

The Drua will host their first ever final on Saturday when Canberra come to town and that's the culmination of an academy which has harnessed the full ability of a rugby mad nation filled to the brim with natural talent.

"There is no doubt that the Fijians bring a lot of natural ability, skill level and athleticism," Hickey told RUGBY.com.au.

"I think that comes from a lot of the games they play as kids on any piece of grass they can find.

"You don't see too many witches hats or cones around so they're learning to play that unstructured game from a very early age.

"But that's also very well supported in Fiji by a good academy program that they have had in place now for a few years around the island.

"It's mainly focused around really S and C and that gives really good support to a lot of the natural ability they have with them.

"There's a very close brotherhood between the players and that's still an element of a successful team."

The instant success of the Drua - who have qualified for finals football in their first two seasons - naturally provokes a conversation about the potential for a Fijian Super Rugby team.

Fairfax Media report on Tuesday revealed a bid from the Fijian Rugby Union to feature in the competition had been placed but financial requirements may stop the move before it even gets off the ground.

Whether they can pull the necessary cash together to submit a successful bid remains to be seen but Hickey backed the Fijians to thrive at the next level if given the chance.

"They definitely have the talent," Hickey said.

"But there is a lot more that goes into having a Super Rugby team more than talent.

"Fiji are working on those areas and they are making a lot of strong advancements and securing some good sponsorship and by 2020 they would be in a position to compete.

"It's a bit like when Argentina came in.

"The first two or three years aren't easy - it was the same for the Sunwolves.

"But when you look at some of the Fijian talent playing in Europe, plenty of them would be keen to come back and be a professional rugby player and live with their families in Fiji.

"It wouldn't take too long before they would be highly competitive."

Any involvement in Super Rugby would only a strengthen a nation which are on the rise in the Test arena as well.

The side that faces the Wallabies in next year's World Cup pool will be no easy beat and Hickey believes any team that underestimates their ability will get burned.

"These players now, some of them have two years of exposure (in the NRC)," he said.

"They will move through to the flying Fijians and I think anybody that takes them lightly at the World Cup would do so at their peril.

"If they catch on fire they can do some things which are very, very difficult to defend."The Drua are the favourites to take out this year's NRC crown. Photo: Getty ImagesBetween now and then the Drua have a maiden NRC title to chase.

Hosting their first home final in Lautoka will be a sight to see as the Drua kick things up a notch when playing in front of their home fans.

"For the Drua players having a home semi final is a big deal," Hickey said.

"I think there were five or six players who had never been off the island (last year) - they'd never travelled.

"Travel isn't their strength so securing that home semi final is a pretty significant thing.

"I'm sure from my experience over there that the locals will get behind them 100 percent.

"Sevens is still king in Fiji but if they can show their ability to compete in the 15 man game and compete at that high level it just brings more and more support in behind them."

The Drua host the Vikings in Fiji on Saturday, kicking off at 3pm AEDT, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS.