RWC 2015 Spotlight - Fiji
FIJI ON THE RWC STAGE
Fiji’s finest hour at the Rugby World Cup unquestionably came on 29 September, 2007 in Nantes when, in a ‘winner-takes-all’ clash to decide who would join Pool B rivals Australia in the quarter-finals, they upset all the odds to defeat Wales 38-34.
Just when it seemed like Martyn Williams’ try seven minutes from time would be enough for Wales to thwart Fiji’s attempts to make the last eight for the first time in 20 years, up popped prop Graham Dewes with what proved to be the all-important score. While it was a sad way for Wales captain Gareth Thomas to mark his 100th cap appearance, everyone connected with Fijian rugby was beaming from ear to ear.
Fiji’s rugby had certainly been a joy to watch and they continued in the same vein seven days later in Marseilles in the quarter-final against South Africa. With a startling set of backs to call upon, including Vilimoni Delasau, Kameli Ratuvou, Seru Rabeni, Sireli Bobo and Seremaia Bai in their pomp, they gave world champions-in-waiting South Africa the mother of all hurry-ups before eventually going down 37-20. With the match tied at 20-all deep in the second half, lock forward Ifereimi Rawaqa missed a golden opportunity to score and, having been offered a reprieve, the Springboks fought back to advance to the semi-finals.
It was a sterling effort from the Fijians, who earlier in the tournament had seen off Japan and Canada before losing to Australia. So it was all the more surprising, therefore, that they should choose the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to go back into their shells.
In contrast to their success in France, Fiji were a shadow of their former selves in New Zealand and despite being roared on by thousands of exiled supporters and those who had made the relatively short hop from their homeland, heavy defeats to South Africa and Wales and a humiliating 27-7 loss to Pacific Island rivals Samoa made it a World Cup to forget.
In many ways, that summed up Fiji’s chequered Rugby World Cup history and although they defeated Italy in their very first World Cup match in 1987, 12 long years would elapse before they could celebrate another victory. In that inaugural Rugby World Cup, Fiji lost their other two Pool 3 matches to New Zealand and Italy but somehow still made the quarter-finals – on try differential, where they fought gamely against eventual finalists France before going down 31-16.
The Rugby World Cup in 1991 proved to be a disaster for the Fijians, who lost all three of their Pool matches to Canada, France and Romania before returning home in disgrace. And worse would follow as Fiji failed to qualify for the Rugby World Cup in 1995.
But by 1999 they were back on track and with Kiwi coach Brad Johnstone instilling discipline into their set-piece play, which had never been a strong point, the combination of traditional flair and organisation saw them defeat both Namibia and Canada to set up a play-off showdown with England at Twickenham. But despite the valiant efforts of fly half Nicky Little and tries from Viliame Satala, Meli Nakauta and Imanueli Tikomaimakogai, Fiji lost 45-24.
Fijian pride was restored, though, and at Rugby World Cup 2003 a side containing legendary winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca promised to inflict more giant-killing misery on a top tier nation. This time it was Ian McGeechan’s Scotland who found themselves in Fiji’s sights and after both sides had defeated Japan and USA but lost to France, the teams lined up in Sydney with a place in the quarter-finals at stake. The losers would go home. Caucaunibuca was on fire, scoring two superb individual tries as Fiji led 20-15 with just two minutes remaining. But there was to be no fairytale ending this time as, with Fiji down to 14 men after the sin-binning of lock forward Api Naevo, Scotland formed a maul and prop Tom Smith was driven over. Chris Paterson converted and Fiji were out.
Waisele Serevi holds the individual record for most points by a Fijian in a Rugby World Cup match with 22 points v Namibia in 1999. Serevi converted all but one of Fiji’s nine tries and added two penalties in a 67-18 victory.
Props are unlikely match-winners but Graham Dewes followed Australia's RWC 1991 hero, Tony Daly, into Rugby World Cup front row folklore when he flopped on the ball to score a crucial try in the 2007 tournament and inflict another South Seas embarrassment on Wales.
In losing 66-0 to Wales in RWC 2011 Fiji became the tenth side to be ‘nilled’ in the tournament’s history.
“It just depends on whether we are sleeping under the coconut tree or rowing the boat!”
-RWC 2007 Fiji captain Mosese Rauluni tries to explain his side’s ability to go from world-beaters one minute to fall-guys the next.
The three oldest players to have played international rugby for Fiji did so at the Rugby World Cup. Prop Epeli Naituivau tops the list after appearing off the bench v England at Twickenham on 20 October, 1999, aged 37 years and 151 days – 122 days older than the number 8 that day, Ifereimi Tawake. Tight head prop J Veitayaki became the third eldest Fijian rugby player of all time when he started the 22-20 defeat to Scotland in Sydney in RWC 2003.
- South Africa
- New Zealand