Over the coming weeks we’ll be publishing excerpts from The Rugby World Cup 2019 Book: Everything You Need to Know About the Rugby World Cup.
Written by Graeme Copas, a respected sports journalist and editor of more than 25 years, the book is an ideal gift ahead of the tournament.
Here we focus on a chapter called ‘Six of the best Rugby World Cup memories’ and start by heading back to the 1987 World Cup and Auckland.
1987: Fiji the brave
The build-up to a major tournament can be a time of mixed emotions for players, coaches, officials and fans.
The fitness of key players is scrutinised, there is speculation whether the team can maintain recent momentum or cast aside indifferent form, and there is nervous tension about the battles ahead.
The list of potential concerns, even for a committed optimist, is always present until the contest begins in earnest.
However, these are trivial in comparison to what the Fiji team faced ahead of the inaugural Rugby World Cup.
The squad, coached by Kiwi George Simpkin, had moved to an army base to complete its preparations before jetting off to New Zealand, amid much excitement in the country.
Fiji is a nation comprised of some 300 islands with rugby as one of its unifying forces. Almost 10 per cent of the population are registered players.
The nation’s anticipation was soon dampened when, eight days before the start of the tournament, a military coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveri Rabuka took control of this Pacific island country.
All communications with, and flights to, the outside world were ended, threatening to prevent Fiji from taking part in the tournament.
Video credit: TJS Sports
The Rugby World Cup organisers were so concerned that they were on the verge of officially asking Western Samoa, who were secretly on standby as first reserve, to replace Fiji.
This never occurred because, despite the political uncertainty, the team were eventually allowed to leave the country and take their place at the tournament.
This was not the end of the Fiji story who, under such taxing circumstances, made their mark on the competition, winning the hearts of the worldwide sporting community by playing an exciting brand of rugby which took them to the quarter-finals.
Fiji began the tournament by scoring four tries in beating Argentina 28-9, they then rested players for the clash with New Zealand, which was lost 74-13, ahead of the crucial contest against Scotland.
Fiji narrowly lost 18-15 to the Scots, leaving both teams, plus Argentina, level on two points. Fiji claimed the runners-up spot and a place in the last eight by scoring more tries than their rivals.
This set up an entertaining quarter-final with France against whom Fiji maintained their entertaining, high risk approach to the game.
Fly-half Severo Koroduadua and centres Tomasi Cama and Kaiava Salusalu were at the forefront of the Fijians’ efforts, before Les Bleus finally capitalised on numerous errors to win 31-16.
This was the end of Fiji’s World Cup journey, but they departed as every neutral fan’s favourite side and having chiselled out a template of how to play for Fijian teams in the future.
Written by Graeme Copas, it is published by Meyer & Meyer Sport, Europe’s leading specialist sports publisher.
Thoroughly researched, the book is a comprehensive guide to the third biggest sporting competition in the world – covering the history, the build-up, the statistics, the 20 teams, star players, and the schedule of this showcase rugby union tournament, while providing talking points, in-depth analysis and insightful interviews.