Fiji make compelling case for a place among rugby’s elite

Photo: World Rugby/Fiji Rugby

Fiji’s convincing victory over the two-times world champions Wallabies on Sunday was the first big upset of the World Cup and further enhanced the case for the Pacific islanders to have a place at rugby’s top table.

Already a Sevens superpower as champions of the first two Olympic tournaments, the Fijians have played seven tests this season and won five of them with the vanquished including former world champions England, Japan and now Australia.

The victory over Australia was their first in 69 years but not a huge surprise to those who have frequently watched the disciplined and well-structured Flying Fijians play this season.

Negotiations over the exact future framework of international rugby have been ongoing for a few years now but, in playing terms at least, the Fijians have made a compelling case for inclusion in any expansion of the Rugby Championship.

“It would be a massive, massive boost for such a small country as Fiji,” kicking coach Seremaia Bai said on Monday.

“If you want to be the best, you have to play with the best and New Zealand and Australia are not far away from Fiji.

“We need to have a crack and participate.

The entry of Fijian Drua into Super Rugby, the elite New Zealand and Australian provincial competition, has already proved hugely beneficial for local rugby by providing a professional pathway for youngsters from the islands.

Although rich in rugby talent, however, the reality is the small population and tiny market Fiji offers means it is far less attractive than wealthy Japan for those concerned about the financial future of the game.

Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui said playing the top nations more frequently was an abiding ambition but he was more immediately concerned with keeping the wins coming at this World Cup, starting against Georgia in Bordeaux on Sept. 30.

“If you get consistent results the rewards will come,” he said after Sunday’s match.

“Other teams are pushing for that as well. If a new tournament comes in, if those matches become available, we have our hand up, we are ready.”

Fiji joining an elite test competition would probably come too late for powerful back Semi Radradra but the 31-year-old said he and his team mates were intent on making an even bigger impression over the next few weeks in France.

“That’s our goal, to win the World Cup,” he told reporters after Sunday’s victory. “Nothing is impossible,” he said.

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