Head coach John McKee has named an experienced wider training squad as Fiji attempt to warm up for Rugby World Cup 2019 with a fifth successive World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title.
McKee has included 18 players who wore the famous white jersey at England 2015, while six of the squad – Sunia Koto, Campese Ma’afu, Leone Nakarawa (pictured), Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Niki Goneva and Kini Murimurivalu – were also in the group that travelled to New Zealand eight years ago.
Veteran 39-year-old hooker Koto, meanwhile, is in line to play at his fourth Rugby World Cup, should he earn selection for Japan 2019.
At the other end of the age scale, McKee has included nine uncapped players. Prolific Toulon winger Filipo Nakosi has been named in the training squad – alongside brother Josua Tuisova – while Mesulame Dolokoto, Luke Tagi, Tuvere Veremalua, Johnny Dyer, Temo Mayanavanua, Jale Railala, Peni Matawalu and Apisai Naqalevu have also been called up.
Fiji have not reached the quarter-finals of a Rugby World Cup since a dramatic victory over Wales in Nantes set up a last-eight meeting with eventual champions South Africa in 2007.
Four years ago McKee’s side were handed an unenviable draw, placed in Pool A alongside hosts England, Australia and Wales with the latter pair progressing and Fiji’s only win coming against Uruguay.
The Pacific islanders will once again face Australia, Wales and Uruguay in Pool D in Japan, where they will also come up against Georgia.
Door still open
Fiji’s preparations for RWC 2019 will begin with a training camp on 1 July, when the squad will be whittled down to 38 players, before they meet the Maori All Blacks in Suva 12 days later for the first of two home-and-away matches.
McKee’s side open their Pacific Nations Cup 2019 campaign with a trip to RWC 2019 host city Kamaishi to face Japan on 27 July. Games against Canada and Samoa follow on successive weekends in Suva as Fiji bid to win their fifth successive title and sixth crown in seven attempts.
“Now is the time, with all planning in place, I am really looking forward to getting into camp with the players from 1 July,” McKee said.
“We know we have a lot of work to do between our assembly and travelling to Japan for our first game against Australia in the Rugby World Cup.”
Fiji will open their campaign against the Wallabies at the Sapporo Dome on 21 September and McKee has not ruled out the possibility of players outside the current training group forcing their way into the squad for Japan.
“Players can be included at any time based on them showing outstanding form and fitness level.
“This can include locally based players playing in the Swire Shipping Fijian Latui or at the World Rugby U20 Championship.”
Fiji training squad
Forwards: Leeroy Atalifo, Mesulame Dolokoto, Sunia Koto, Campese Ma’afu, Sam Matavesi, Eroni Mawi, Peni Ravai, Manasa Saulo, Luke Tagi, Kalivati Tawake, Joeli Veitayaki, Tuvere Veremalua, Tevita Cavubati, Johnny Dyer, Semi Kunatani, Temo Mayanavanua, Viliame Mata, Sikeli Nabou, Leone Nakarawa, Nemani Nagusa, Jale Railala, Api Ratuniyarawa, Tevita Ratuva, Albert Tuisue, Mosese Voka, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Peceli Yato.
Backs: Frank Lomani, Nikola Matawalu, Peni Matawalu, Henri Seniloli, Seru Vularika, Levani Botia, Sevanaia Galala, Josh Matavesi, Alivereti Veitokani, Jale Vatubua, Ben Volavola, Vereniki Goneva, Benito Masilevu, Kini Murimurivalu, Filipo Nakosi, Apisai Naqalevu, Waisea Nayacelevu, Patrick Osbourne, Semi Radradra, Eroni Sau, Metuisela Talebula, Josua Tuisova, Setareki Tuicuvu.