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How to beat Fiji? Bore them to death

Fijian Nemani Nadolo is a star for Fiji. (Photo: AFP)
Expert
13th September, 2015
45
4869 Reads

The Wallabies play their opening match of the Rugby World Cup against the flamboyant Fijians in Cardiff on September 23 (September 24 Australian time).

Ironically it is this very flamboyancy that will bring Fiji undone.

There is no doubt that if Fiji wins their fair share of possession they can threaten any side in the world, including the Wallabies.

From the moment they are born, Fijians have a rugby ball in their hands and as we all know, love to run the ball. As pure runners they can be the most exhilarating in the world to watch.

In 1980 when Queensland was considered by many to be the best provincial team in world rugby, we went on a tour of Fiji and played the Fijian national team in Suva.

It was a warm sunny Saturday afternoon, and people were hanging out of the trees to watch the game.

And did the Fijians put on a show. To say we lost is a bit like saying General Custer was narrowly defeated at the Battle of Big Horn.

Like Custer, we were massacred. The Fijians had the ball on a string and could do no wrong. I still have this lasting memory in my mind of Queensland and Wallaby prop Chris ‘Buddha’ Handy valiantly trying to run across field to tackle one of the members of a rampaging Fijian backline.

Needless to say he did not stand a chance.

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While this can happen when Fijians are given some rope, their track record against the Wallabies is not that great.

The two teams have met 19 times, with Fiji only winning twice – in 1952 and 1954.

Fiji has always suffered from lack of population, and lack of resources.
However, another major issue is that they can only play one style of game and that is all out attack.

While this makes them lethal it also exposes their Achilles heel – which is lack of set piece skills and lack of ball security under pressure.

Australia can use this opening match to play a tighter style of game that, while unattractive, will help them refine those skills they will need when they come up against more traditional opponents in England and Wales.

The Fijians hate set-piece and driving mauls. This has not changed since we played them in the 80s, and no doubt long before that.

The key to defeating them is to sucking them into a tight game they do not want to play. The Wallabies should use field position, and disrupt the Fijians in the lineout. When in possession, the Wallaby forwards should drive upfield forcing the Fijians to combat driving mauls. This will disrupt their discipline and sap their energy reserves.

The Wallabies have a very good scrum and can use this to good effect by putting enormous pressure on the Fijian forward pack both in attack and defence.

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In the loose, Michael Hooper and David Pocock need to be on the field to ensure the Wallabies have the majority of broken-play ball.

Defensively, the Wallabies need to be extremely aggressive and get up in the face of the Fijians and deny them time and space.

Fiji will have had the benefit of one Rugby World Cup match against England under their belt. It is unlikely that they will emerge victorious from that game so will have their backs to the wall when they play the Wallabies.

This can be good and bad for Fiji.

If the Wallabies give them no room, and deny them possession, discipline will be the issue for Fiji. Mistakes are made when teams are under pressure. Historically this has never been their strong point.

On the positive side, Fiji will have 15 of their 31-man squad with prior Rugby World Cup experience. Most of their players also have the benefit of playing rugby professionally in France, the UK and in Super Rugby.

Nonetheless, they will not have had sufficient time to forge the type of forward pack that is needed for Rugby World Cup success.

They have tremendous finishers in Verinki Goneva, Metuisela Talebula and Nemani Nadolo but need to win sufficient quality possession to unleash the freakish skills these players possess.

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Fiji’s chances of success lie in their forward pack and it is this area they have historically failed to compete.

As magnificent as they are when they get the rub of the green, for sustained success in fifteens rugby, they need to be able to seriously compete in the set piece and traditional tight forward play.