State of the Nation: Fiji

Date published: June 30 2016

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With the June internationals now done and dusted, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Fiji.

Pacific Nations Cup champions yet again, Fiji and their head coach John McKee have picked up where they left off when they caused England and Wales a few issues back in the Rugby World Cup last year.

There was however a slight bump in the road, last weekend's 14-3 defeat to Georgia coming as a surprise considering how Fiji had dispatched Samoa and Tonga during the PNC.

McKee admittedlty used the Georgia game to rest some of those players from the PNC Tests who were tiring at the end of a long season, only for his selection to backfire in terms of the result.

McKee however will have learned plenty about where certain players now stand, along with how his sides fare up against the strong kind of set-piece that Georgia offer in abundance.

As McKee told Radio NZ, taking on Georgia isn't like the loose contests we often see between the Pacific Islands. And his side now need to adapt.

"When we play Tonga or Samoa because the game has more flow to it the players build confidence through building some phases and finding some space whereas Georgia really controlled the tempo of the game. (It was a) more stop-start nature of the game, didn't allow us to get any momentum," he said.

"We had some of our more experienced players not playing for various reasons – and I'd released a couple of the guys back to the Sevens squad, which is of a high priority for us – and under pressure we weren't able to react in the game to turn things around."

Had this been a full-strength Fiji outfit then some alarm bells might have rung, but there was no Seremaia Bai, Vereniki Goneva, Waisea Nayacalevu, Leone Nakarawa, Api Ratuniyarawa or Campese Ma'afu last Saturday.

Ben Volavola did start at ten and still feels like the long-term answer, although his development into becoming a solid Test fly-half it seems will require more time.

Not forgetting that by the time November rolls around Fiji will be boosted by both the talent and experience of Nemani Nadolo and the rest of those players who were involved with the Top 14 play-offs.

This is a team on the up under the guidance of the former Australia U20s assistant coach, no question, and the targets the McKee set out around the time the spotlight was on Fiji prior to the Rugby World Cup still ring true – retaining their expansive style but limiting the number of turnovers, while also improving the set-piece play of the current pack whilst developing talented front-row prospects before the future.

Four consecutive titles in the Pacific Nations Cup doesn't happen by accident but the yardstick will be November, when Fiji face the Barbarians (in Belfast), England and Japan.

The grant of extra funding this year from Fiji's Reserve Bank and New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of the Player Personal Development Programme to keep players in the country for longer is a real boost, but more can still be done to set the national side up for future success.

Fiji will be expected to win Olympic Sevens gold in Rio later this year and the feel-good factor from that success can spur the XV side on going into November, when they will be targeting two wins out of three.

Read the rest of our State of the Nation pieces following the June Tests right here.

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