Two sides looking to end the year on a high meet up again in neutral territory as Fiji face the United States at the Stade de la Rabine in Vannes, France. Though neither side came away from last weekend victorious, each would have taken some positives from their performance against difficult opposition. Fiji looked dangerous as ever with ball in hand against Wales, while the Americans showed a greater willingness to move the ball, if a little haphazardly at times. The Eagles have only beaten the Fijians once in six attempts, a surprise win in the old Pacific Rim Championship during the build-up towards the 1999 World Cup.
John McKee has made six changes to the side that ran Wales closer than expected. Watisoni Votu and Timoci Nagusa spell out Waisea Nayacalevu and Metuisela Talebula at wing and fullback respectively, while snappy Benetton Treviso halfback Henry Seniloli takes over from Niko Matawalu to partner Josh Matavesi. Deposed scrumhalf Nemia Kenatale could see his first action of the autumn as he starts on the bench.
Two yellow cards for recklessness has cost Campese Ma’afu a one week suspension, but it’s Peni Ravai who gets the call to replace him rather than Jerry Yanuyanutawa. While Ravai was originally selected as a prop last year, most of his rugby since has been at hooker. Tale Tuapati is the man to wear the no2 jersey this week, with Sunia Koto swapped to the bench, and a similar rotation sees Malakai Ravulo start in place of Dominiko Waqaniburotu, with captain Akapusi Qera shifting over to the blindside.
Ealing Trailfinders midfielder Ronnie McLean makes his international debut at fullback, after watching the Romanian match from the bench, an interesting selection given Folau Niua’s success there over the past couple weeks and McLean’s lack of experience. He will have plenty of gas to help him out with Takudzwa Ngwenya returning on the right wing in place of Tim Maupin, and new sensation Tim Stanfill retained on the left. Thretton Palamo starts for only the second time at inside centre, hoping to nullify the colossal physical threat of Nemani Nadolo. The impending collision between the two gigantic midfielders promises to be earth shaking.
The Eagles welcome Olive Kilifi back to the front row this week, this time as a loosehead prop with he and Mate Moeakiola tasked with holding out against a surprisingly strong Fijian scrum. Seconds rows Greg Peterson and John Cullen impressed against Romania and have kept their spots, and captain Todd Clever returns to the starting lineup, replacing Matt Trouville at no8. Tai Tuisamoa drops out as Mike Tolkin opts for a more conventional 4-3 split on the bench.
These two last met in Nagoya, Japan, in June of last year. The rain didn’t stop a rampant Fiji from tallying four tries and heaping on a record 25 point defeat over an Eagles side of similar strength. Palamo could prove an x factor both in attack and defense, but Fiji have far more than merely Nadolo to offer in terms of strike runners. If the Americans turn the ball over kick loosely against this team, things could look eerily similar to what happened in Gloucester last week. With a dry day expected on location, conditions should be very conducive to running rugby, and that certainly favours the men in the white jerseys. Look for Fiji to be too strong, with their mesmerizing runners putting on a show in an entertaining spectacle. Fiji by 18.
FIJI vs UNITED STATES
Friday, November 21, 18:00 GMT, Vannes
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistants: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU) & Gary Conway (IRFU)
TMO: Iain Ramage (SRU)