Fiji eyes all-time high world ranking ahead of Rugby World Cup

Photo: Fiji Rugby

Fiji’s Rugby World Cup campaign is gaining momentum and the Simon Raiwalui-coached side’s 30-22 win over England Sunday is expected to push its world ranking to a new all-time high of seventh with 11 days to the pinnacle event.

The match at Twickenham was Fiji’s first win over England in seven meetings – the past six seeing the hosts win by an average of 22 points.

After a rain-ruined first half and trailing 3-8, the Flying Fijians cut loose in the second, with tries from captain Waisea Nayacalevu, winger Vinaya Habosi, and replacement halfback Simione Kuruvoli. Flyhalf Caleb Muntz kicked three conversions and three penalties.

Selesitino Ravutaumada won the player of the match award after an electric performance on the right wing and setting up tries for Nayacalevu and Kuruvoli.

“They’re a really good team now, got some phenomenal athletes,” said captain Courtney Lawes, whose 100th England cap was spoiled. “One on one, they made us look silly.”

“The result was really good,” Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui said. “We have pushed the boys very hard (in training), taking them to the limit, and they’ve never complained.”

The Fijians trailed injury-hit England 8-3 at halftime but never trailed again from the 43rd minute, following their second converted try.

Defeat ended a miserable week for England in which captain Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola were suspended for the opening World Cup game against Argentina on September 9 in Marseille and winger Anthony Watson was ruled out of the tournament by a calf injury.

“The defence wasn’t good enough,” England coach Steve Borthwick said after his sixth loss in nine Tests. “The power of Fiji’s carries, they scored too easily. We slipped off too many tackles.”

There was a small but enthusiastic knot of Fiji supporters among a modest crowd of 56,854 — a testament to England’s poor form that has now seen them lose five of their last six Tests. It was a far smaller attendance than the more than 80,000 that watched world champions South Africa inflict a record 35-7 defeat on New Zealand at Twickenham on Friday.

Fiji’s win is set to spark scenes of mass euphoria back home, a point not lost on the fleet-footed Selestino Ravutaumada.

“I am so proud of the boys, this win is for all the people back home in Fiji,” he said.

Fiji are in a Pool C at the World Cup also featuring Australia and Georgia.

But on their recent form, not only will it be no surprise if they reach the knockout stages, some observers believe they are now more capable than at any time in their history of reaching the semi-finals of a World Cup.

Ravutaumada, however, refused to get carried away, saying simply: “No comment on that one, we will see on the first match against Wales.”

World Rugby had said on Friday the prize for a first-ever win for Fiji over England is a new all-time high of seventh.

And sixth place is on the cards when France beats Australia this morning.

“There’s a very good team spirit at the moment and a good feeling within the group,” Raiwalui said as they prepare to face Australia, Wales, Georgia and Portugal in Pool C at the tournament in France. The side’s opening RWC match is against Wales on 11 September.