Fiji are gathering momentum for the World Cup after a final warm-up game saw them record a first win over England, with the team adding discipline and defensive determination to their usual qualities of dynamic running and fast hands.
“We don’t get to play too often at Twickenham,” coach Simon Raiwalui said, hailing a 30-22 victory that was all the sweeter for showcasing some of the side’s less heralded qualities.
“People think of Fijian-style rugby as throwing it around, but it’s also about collisions, and being the best side we can be,” Raiwalui said.
Fiji have worked on fitness and decision-making in particular, he said ahead of the World Cup in which they open their campaign against Wales on Sept. 10.
Raiwalui said the creation of the Fijian Drua Super Rugby side has done much to give his under-resourced squad more experience, with the results clear to see on the pitch.
“The gap is closing,” he said of Fiji’s recent results as well as those of other nations such as Japan and Georgia who operate just below the game’s traditional top-tier powerhouses of the Rugby Championship and Six Nations.
“The Drua has been huge for us, we’ve been able to expose 40 to 50 players to playing at the highest level in Super Rugby,” Raiwalui said.
Fiji have often looked better on paper than in the crucible of a tournament proper as set-piece woes and poor preparation prevent their ball-playing stars from shining, but Raiwalui and captain Waisea Nayacalevu think this team can go further.
“This group of boys compared to other ones we’ve had feels special,” Nayacalevu said after himself starring on Saturday with some devastating running and intelligent support lines to profit from winger Selestino Ravutaumada’s constant line breaks.
“There’s a very good team spirit at the moment and a good feeling within the group,” their coach and former Fiji captain Raiwalui said as they prepare to also face Australia, Georgia and Portugal in Pool C at the tournament in France.