Fiji set to light up Twickenham again in a mouth-watering clash in June

Adam Kyriacou
Fiji centre Josua Tuisova diving over for a try.

Fiji centre Josua Tuisova diving over for a try.

The Barbarians have announced they will face off against Fiji in an unmissable fixture at Twickenham Stadium in the summer of 2024.

The Killik Cup will be on the line on Saturday, June 22 (kick-off 3 pm), with Robbie Deans leading the Barbarians against an all-star Fiji line-up – who set pulses racing at the recent Rugby World Cup on their way to the quarter-finals.

This will be Deans’ sixth time coaching the Baa-Baas; the 64-year-old Kiwi masterminded victories over Ireland (2015) and Fiji (2016), and oversaw a draw with South Africa (2016), as well as defeats to New Zealand (2017) and England (2015). Most recently, he coached alongside Warren Gatland when the Barbarians faced Wales in 2019.

Motivated to put on a show

“I’m very excited to return to Twickenham,” Deans said. “It’s a place where you step out into that arena, and you just want to lace up your boots and play. Obviously, you can’t do that forever, so I’m looking forward to making the most of this opportunity to get back there.

“It’s a privilege to pull that Barbarians jersey on, and we’ll certainly be motivated to put on a show and play with the classic, free-flowing style of the Baa-Baas.”

Deans has been director of rugby of Saitama Wild Knights since 2014, winning five Japanese league titles in his tenure in Ōta City. Previously, the five-cap All Black spent five years coaching Australia (2008-13), after eight years with the Crusaders (2000-08), where he also won five Super Rugby titles.

And despite enjoying a distinguished coaching career so far, Deans insists that taking the helm with the Baa-Baas remains one of the highest honours available in rugby.

“For me, the Barbarians are the gatekeepers of the soul of the game,” he said.

“Witnessing that unbelievable Barbarians try at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973 is what latched me onto the game, and I’ve got no doubt that it had the same impact on a lot of people.

“The moment ignited the spirit of the Barbarians. The game was amateur at the time, and now, obviously, people are well-paid professional players, but the Barbarians remind us all that rugby is still a game at the end of the day, and that we have a responsibility to the generations that follow.”

For Fiji, it will be a first return to HQ since their stunning 30-22 victory over England (the first time they had ever defeated the Red Rose) in a Rugby World Cup warm-up match back in August.

Reached last-eight at World Cup

The Flying Fijians went from strength to strength at the tournament in France, capturing the hearts of the neutrals with their high-octane style of play and reaching the last eight for the first time in 16 years before a narrow quarter-final loss to England.

“Playing the Barbarians is a wonderful opportunity for the Flying Fijians,” said Simi Valenitabua, Interim Administrator at Fiji Rugby Union. “They come with a great reputation of fantastic running rugby, very similar to the Fijian philosophy for how we like to play the game.

“Fiji is grateful for the chance to play against the Barbarians at Twickenham, an iconic rugby venue. The club has a rich 130-year history, with many of the greats of rugby representing them in that time.

“Games like these are invaluable to Fiji Rugby, alongside World Rugby’s continued support to our game with the Fijian Drua Super Rugby team.”

Boasting a star-studded line-up which includes the likes of Waisea Nayacalevu, Semi Radradra, Levani Botia, and Josua Tuisova, among others, Deans has been impressed with the progress Fiji have made on the pitch over the last 12 months.

He said: “They have played some great rugby, and they’re only going to get better without a doubt. Access to Super Rugby with the Fijian Drua has been a fillip for them; it’s helped with their depth, so they’re going to go from strength to strength.

“Everyone would have been aware of them before the World Cup, but the likes of Nayacalevu and Botia are remarkable footballers. Across the board, though, they impressed and grew in terms of their teamwork.

Fireworks from the Fijians

“The last time Fiji played at Twickenham, they were successful, so I’m sure they will be keen to recreate those fireworks again at the home English rugby.”

John Spencer, President of the Barbarians, added: “We’re thrilled to be returning to Twickenham and facing Fiji, a fixture that always brings huge enjoyment to players and fans alike.

“As we saw so brilliantly demonstrated during the men’s Rugby World Cup 2023, Fiji play rugby with huge passion and creativity on display – very much the style of the Barbarians. The Killik Cup 2024 will be an incredible showcase of passion, flair and fast-paced rugby from both sides. We can’t wait.”

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