Every time Wales, Australia or England play, the post-match commentary talks about whether or not they will get out of the ‘pool of death’ at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
It is of course a valid discussion, however it’s one in which Fiji (and Uruguay for that matter) are largely ignored.
Uruguay will no doubt be used as a means to increase percentage points, and the mostly amateur team will expect to be on the wrong end of some large scores.
Fiji, however, should be taken much more seriously.
I’m at least a little puzzled why a proud rugby nation that has made the quarter-finals twice (1987 and 2007) is given no recognition. If anything, allowing them to fly under the radar makes them more dangerous.
History clearly shows that Fiji can perform on rugby’s biggest stage. Wales especially won’t need reminding that in 2007 they were knocked out of the pool stages by Fiji. They even managed to give eventual winners South Africa a scare in their match that year.
In the 1987 and 1999 cups, the French stopped them from further progress – 1999 was especially memorable after Paddy O’Brien did the Fijians no favours at all in front of a home crowd.
In 2003, the Scots kept the Fijians from advancing by a mere 22-20 victory, a match many will remember for Rupeni Caucaunibuca’s double.
With such a solid Rugby World Cup record, surely the Fijians are aiming to get past the pool stage, just like the other teams.
One of the great things about the Rugby World Cup is that the whole rugby world focuses on the one tournament. In the years between teams play many Test matches while missing many of their European stars, and results often reflect this.
But as far as I’m aware, during (and before) the Rugby World Cup players are released from all club duties. This means the Pacific Islanders are able to commit a full-strength side and be much better prepared than some of the one-off Tests during the autumn and June windows.
In other words, Fiji will play the best side available, and consistently.
Another important point to consider is player fatigue. In pool C for example, there is no doubt the All Blacks will be thinking about resting players against Namibia or Georgia (no disrespect intended). Will Wales, Australia or England have the same luxury against Fiji? It would be a tactic fraught with danger if they do.
This in fact bodes badly for all the teams in the pool because it will mean three very intense games in a stage of the tournament that has traditionally had one or two. Whoever the two qualifiers are, they will most likely be much more battered by the time they get to the next stage than those in other pools.
So, am I saying Fiji will make the quarter final? It is unlikely, and they are a team who can be underwhelming. But I’m tired of the pool of death being portrayed as a three-horse race. They have the capacity to cause more than one upset.