Head coach John McKee has called up three new faces to the Flying Fijians ahead of their European tour, including the Top 14’s leading try scorer Alipate Ratini. The Grenoble star takes the place of veteran Sireli Bobo, one of two wingers unavailable including Napolioni Nalaga, and if he performs as well as he has for his new club, Bobo might find it difficult to get his spot back. Fiji once again demonstrates its amazing abundance of talent out wide with Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Watisoni Votu earmarked to compete for Nalaga’s left wing position.
Other notable absentees are injury victims Api Naikatini, Wame Lewaravu, Netani Talei, and Seremaia Baï, while outstanding Wasps eightman Nathan Hughes has yet to make himself available for his homeland. Even so, this is Fiji’s strongest group of players since the World Cup and in terms of professionalism the best they have ever put together with only a single player, prop Manasa Saulo, currently based in country.
Former New Zealand u17 prop Taniela Koroi joins the team for the first time after a breakthrough season with Wellington in the ITM Cup. He will compete with Saulo and France-based Isei Colati for the all-important tighthead position. Speedy hooker Peni Ravai is ready to challenge Southland’s Tale Tuapati after impressing with the Greater Sydney Rams in the NRC, with experienced Sunia Koto also in the mix after replacing Vili Veikoso, who finds himself temporarily stranded in Fiji with a proposed move to Doncaster on hold pending visa clearance.
Biarritz strongman Nemia Soqeta looks set to follow in brother Tomasi’s footsteps with a probable first cap on the way, while giant Tasman lock Tevita Cavubati could win his first since the run-up to the 2011 World Cup. Joining him is clubmate Nemani Nagusa, who competes in a strong group of back rowers that also includes dynamic Lyon no8 Masi Matadigo. Akapusi Qera retains the captaincy with help from former skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu.
The Welsh players will see a familiar face across from them in the form of Ospreys midfielder Josh Matavesi, though he looks to be considered as a flyhalf with some even bigger names set to pair up in the centres. Mammoth Crusaders sensation Nemani Nadolo should finally pair up with Leicester dynamo Vereniki Goneva, a truly frightening proposition for their opponents. The question is will the wingers see the ball? Then again, with these two on the rampage it might not matter!
On paper this is a very dangerous Fijian side, certainly a potential banana skin for Wales should they choose to field a weakened side, and possibly France as well. Their nemesis has always been the scrum, and their ability to compete in the tight-loose against more battle-savvy forward packs. It’s yet to be seen how much the big bodies of Koroi and Cavubati might help in that department. Fiji can still win with 35% possession, so tempo and field position will be crucial to limiting their chances. If McKee can keep them focused and disciplined for 80 minutes, there’s a real chance they could come away with an upset, or at the very least make some Welsh fans very uncomfortable in their seats.
11/08 – vs France – Stade Velodrome, Marseille
11/15 – vs Wales – Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
11/21 – vs USA – Stade de la Rabine, Vannes