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Fiji faces big challenge from day one of Cup

Wednesday 9 September 2015 | Published in Regional


TWICKENHAM – Perennially strapped for cash but always brimming with talent, Fiji head to the Rugby World Cup hoping to upset an international establishment that has long shunned them while plundering their playing stocks.

Ranked ninth in the world, Fiji have the honour of opening the tournament against hosts England at Twickenham on September 18 but face a Herculean task to reach the knockouts from the toughest of the groups, which also includes Australia and Wales.

The islanders are determined to offer more than nuisance value and are bubbling with confidence after beating Samoa to clinch the recent Pacific Nations Cup.

“The pool itself is going to be very interesting,” said Fiji coach John McKee.

“I don’t think only one team is going to dominate the pool.”

“There will be twists and every point would matter because, if it comes down to the wire, every bonus point would matter.”

Fiji reached the quarter-finals at the 1999 and 2007 World Cups but were a rabble at the 2011 tournament in New Zealand, bowing out of the pool phase with a 66-0 loss to Wales.

They will be hopeful of a better showing in England where they have arrived early to build cohesion in a squad who rarely get together.

Too small to support a serious domestic competition, the island nation of 900,000 exports its top players to the world’s premier leagues where the best are often persuaded to switch allegiance and play for their new countries.

Fiji may face two of their own in winger Henry Speight and centre Tevita Kuridrani when they take on Australia in their second pool match.

By any measure, those staying true to the Fiji flag are up against it in England.

The Wallabies, England and Wales have played dozens of matches against Tier One nations since the last World Cup, but Fiji have played only a handful and none this year.

Fijian rugby has also been plagued by poor governance, moving World Rugby to freeze their funding for much of 2014.

Despite the obstacles, New Zealander McKee has galvanised the team since taking over last year, leading them to victory over Italy in his first match in charge for a first win over a Tier One nation since they upset Wales at the 2007 World Cup.

Fiji swept to their Pacific Nations Cup triumph with a high-octane attacking game and boast an array of explosive ball-carriers, including New Zealand-based winger Nemani Nadolo.

The squad, captained by backrow forward Akapusi Qera, will hope their firepower can compensate for a less dependable defence and set-pieces.