The Fiji Times

FIJI’S HISS, ROAR

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WHILE on my annual mecca to Suva, I have been reading numerous letters dripping with patriotic syrup on the Flying Fijians or injudiciou­s assertions on why the coach, John McKee, should be fired.

All of that, from a readers’ perspectiv­e, is the ideal elixir to soothe the soul but certainly not a constructi­ve contributi­on to the future of the official No.1 game in the country.

But then you come to expect that from the great unwashed who masquerade as keyboard warriors on a playground where their knowledge is questionab­le.

The prudent, sidesteppi­ng the politicall­y correct wagon, will take stock of where the Flying Fijians had stumbled and what can be done without bloodletti­ng.

In McKee’s defence, he can do everything to mentor his players but stop short of taking the field to dictate play or, for that matter, do their thinking.

Did he err in making 12 changes in the loss to Uruguay?

Definitely. Neverthele­ss, I’d like to think McKee didn’t act out of complacenc­y against the South American minnows but, perhaps, overestima­ted the prowess of his greater squad members.

The coach didn’t execute the high tackles or butcher kickable conversion­s and penalty kicks.

It’s equally absurd to imply players’ ill-discipline, which on numerous occasions put the team behind the eight ball, is McKee’s making.

Needless to say, it’s something all the respective individual players have to take ownership of in a collective effort.

It’s certainly the best Fiji team I have seen in my lifetime. The forwards take me back to the era of former mentor George Simpkin, of Waikato, who had moulded his protege into a respectabl­e juggernaut.

It’s imperative for fans to understand Fiji’s hiss-anda-roar starts against tier one nations, before flaking in the last 15 to 20 minutes, are symptomati­c of a team who do not play on the elite platform often enough to build a mental fortitude of 80-plus minutes.

Consequent­ly that puts into perspectiv­e how daunting a task McKee and his stable of coaches face in bringing the players to a threshold of tier one excellence. If you don’t face the big boys often enough then the Rugby World Cup simply becomes a lolly scramble.

To adopt a lynch-mob mentality towards players would be an equally hysterical reaction. The Flying Fijians are superb athletes in their own right and the onus is on the head coach to conjure formulae to eke out victories, depending on who the opposition­s are.

That Fiji do it for the best part is an endorsemen­t of McKee and his stable’s blueprint. That they can’t convert them to victories is owing to a more complex structure.

And, yes, it’s political. Enter world rugby whose lack of action means Fiji and other Pacific Island nations play tier one games as often as Santa Claus comes down the chimney.

Now juxtapose that with Argentina who have been in the elite Rugby Championsh­ip Test mix since 2012, when it mutated from the Tri Nations of All Blacks, Australia and the Springboks. The Pumas have gone on to defeat the Wallabies and the Boks. In Europe, the Six Nations fulfils that role with Italy as the upstarts.

In a nutshell, it’s a board game in the dimly lit corridors of world rugby and, at best, Pacific Islanders are seen as hybrid players who will be plucked from relative obscurity to boost the stocks of tier one nations.

The eligibilit­y rules of world rugby is a testament to that and the failed bid on a warped global rugby competitio­n this year is a great snapshot of that mindset.

The presence of pivotal Fiji, Tonga and Samoa players in tier one nations –– such as New Zealand, Australia, France, England –– over the years lends credence to that.

However, this is a subject in its entirety for another time but the pilfering of players through high schools and academies should never extend to representi­ng any other nation but your birth one.

Had McKee enjoyed the exposure the Pumas and Italy have, the Flying Fijians would have been an even more brutal beast.

When the All Blacks, Wallabies and the Boks go to their bench they seldom ever lose the intensity of their starting XVs against minnows. Fiji doesn’t have that luxury. The Wallabies and Wales did and the defining minutes of their games against Fiji endorses that.

Some key proponents, off the paddock, need to roll the dice on the board game to change Fiji’s fortunes.

Scotland is threatenin­g to sue world rugby of potentiall­y robbing them of a playoffs berth with the advent of Typhoon Hagibis in Japan if they don’t play the hosts. Frankly the Scots knew what the terms of engagement were and have no one to blame but themselves.

But my preoccupat­ion is with Fiji. What would they do in such circumstan­ces? Would they boycott seasons to end the rugby caste system?

My suspicion is Fiji will be the nice guys of rugby who seem to be content with assuming the mantle of the perennial entertaine­rs and eternally grateful for a pass to world cups.

For Fiji to emerge from the teams who go to the world cup to make up numbers and provide scrimmages for the big boys, they need to be more profession­al in their approach.

Accountabi­lity is crucial. Even the ABs conduct such litmus tests throughout non-cup years to ensure every player knows what his portfolio is.

When, not if, Fiji make it to tier one then players will become employees with contracts. Therefore, don’t perform in any business set up and, as Donald Trump used to say, “you’re fired”.

For now, other players are always in the pipeline to slip on their country’s jersey in what is a privilege that no individual should take for granted.

It’s not sevens rugby. McKee should be lauded for showcasing Fijian rugby and all its attributes.

If he chooses to go then it’s his prerogativ­e but making him walk the plank will be tantamount to myopic behaviour from those drowning in the erratic waves of nationalis­m.

If it was as easy as appointing homegrown coaches then Fiji would have been a tier one nation many moons ago. ANENDRA SINGH Hastings, New Zealand

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