State of the Nation: Fiji

Date published: November 6 2015

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As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Fiji.

Despite being drawn in the World Cup's Pool of Death – alongside traditional powerhouses in Australia, England and Wales – there was lots of optimism amongst the Pacific Islanders as they came in to the tournament on the back of a successful Pacific Nations Cup campaign.

Fiji were competitive in all their performances at the global showpiece but, in the end, couldn't pull off a victory against their more illustrious opponents, having to settle for a win over Uruguay as their only success.

In the tournament's opener, Fiji gave England a run for their money and were trailing 18-11 inside the final quarter before late tries by Mike Brown and Billy Vunipola helped the tournament hosts to a 35-11 victory.

It was more of the same in their next match – against Australia four days later – with Fiji showing they could hold their own against the tournament's eventual runners-up but the Wallabies held on to secure a 28-13 win.

That result came at a cost, however, as their star player, Nemani Nadolo, was suspended for their next match against Wales due to an illegal tackle on David Pocock.

Fiji then took on Wales and like their two previous matches they didn't disgrace themselves but still lost 23-13. They managed to deny both Australia and Wales try-scoring bonus points in thoise matches and finished off their campaign with a 47-15 triumph over Uruguay, to secure fourth spot in the pool.

Although backline players like Nadolo, Vereniki Goneva and Ben Volavola impressed, Fiji's star performer was their second-row Leone Nakarawa who led the tournament's statistics for offloads (10) and turnovers won (9) at the end of the pool stages.

Their gruelling schedule didn't do them any favours as they played those three matches against England, Australia ans Wales within a 13-day period.

Looking ahead, head coach John McKee has said he hopes to build on their performances at the World Cup and has vowed to continue with the expansive game which is Fiji's traditional strength.

While Fiji's style made them popular participants at the World Cup, and secured them the Pacific Nations Cup, they must work on developing their forward play. 

Great strides have already been made on that front but imagine what the team can achieve if they actually dominate opponents up front.

McKee has called for major sponsorship to finance rugby in Fiji so that they can develop into a force capable of mounting a challenge at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The long-term future of the game needs a huge investment so that the Fijiian Rugby Union can develop their age-grade teams. 

McKee's name has come up as a possible replacement for Japan's vacant head coaching position and one can't help but feel that the magnitude of the Pacific Islanders' progression at Test level will depend on whether he stays on in his current role or leaves for greener pastures.

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