Pacific Islanders determined to show they’re not just Sevens kings
FIJI are on a special World Cup raiding mission, aiming to prove beyond any doubt they have the mental toughness and desire to be serial winners as well as the game’s great showmen.
The Pacific Islanders want to display their serious professional game faces when they land in Japan, and not just smile, be friendly and provide the breathtaking thrills, skills and colour.
Newcastle Falcons’ Josh Matavesi insists his country, which now pretty much rules the Sevens roost and is now dreaming of sitting on top of the fifteens throne, is leaving no stone unturned in the bid for success.
Shrewd New Zealander John Mckee is seeing the fruits of his five years of labour as head coach, adding that steely determination and solid structure to the natural ball-playing prowess. The shock 21-14 victory over France in Paris last Autumn showed just what the team are now capable of achieving with growing belief and confidence.
Sending out a warning to Australia and Wales, who are in the same pool, 28-year-old centre Matavesi said: “If people think we are just going out to Japan to make up the numbers and put smiles on faces but win nothing then they are mistaken. This Fijian squad should be taken seriously, and while we love playing fantastic rugby, we also enjoy winning.
“The whole ethos around our squad is that we are not scared of anyone. That we go out there to frighten the opposition and not be worried about what they can do to us, no matter who they are and how successful they have been over the years.
“We are a dangerous team when we have time to spend together and I hate to think what we are going to be like after 12 weeks! We are going to be the best prepared Fiji team at a World Cup because of that extended time and in the buildup games we will have time to try different combinations and to really gel.
“Fiji have been underestimated in the past and have caused upsets in World Cups, and the aim will be to do the same in Japan. But to us it will not be an upset. We expect to win every game we play. People said it was a surprise for us to win in Paris but we felt we could beat France that day and the team stepped up to do a great job.
“People liken us to the Harlem Globetrotters, but the team has evolved considerably in the last few years and there is a new dimension to the way we play.
“John (Mckee) has given us the structure to have that foundation to build our attacking moves and then finish them off. You need to be clinical and decisive to score the tries in the big games, and that’s what we have now added to our performances.”
And Matavesi also hailed the fact Fiji have strength in depth.
He said: “There are so many players available and I wouldn’t want to be in John’s shoes having to cut it down for Japan. Hopefully I can be involved because when you look at the quality and ability there is in the Fiji squad it promises to be an exciting World Cup.”
Fiji are warming up for the World Cup attempting to win a fifth consecutive Pacific Nations Cup. They play Japan in Hanazono hoping to get up a head of speed before opening their Webb Ellis Cup campaign against the Wallabies on September 21
in Sapporo. Coach Mckee has had his work cut out travelling the globe to visit and talk to his players who are scattered in most corners of it plying their, mostly professional, trade. But he believes it’s paying off.
He said: “With Pacific Island rugby, and particularly Fijian rugby, people have always said ‘great attacking rugby but wobbly scrums and lineouts’. We’ve made massive improvements in the scrum as evidenced in the 2015 World Cup.
“I think the fantastic achievements of the Sevens side is inspiring the fifteen men to really step up and show they can be just as successful on the biggest stage. I have every confidence in this set of players to produce some wonderful performances and results in Japan.”
On the Fijians he expects to sparkle in the Japanese spotlight, Mckee added: “Semi Radradra is a world-class talent who is quick, strong and runs good lines. He will take a lot of stopping. Leone Nakarawa is an outstanding, athletic, worldclass lock.
“Josua Tuisova went to
France as a young guy, and with wing being a strength, we let him focus on the sevens leading up to the Rio Olympics rather than rushing him into the Flying Fijians. He hasn’t played a lot of Tests but he’s one who could really light up the World Cup.
“We have plenty of guys who can cause havoc in the backs and forwards. I just have to help them get in the right shape mentally and physically to be able to cause that havoc!”
Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu will be out to take major scalps in Japan