Fiji vs All-Blacks Match Preview

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It’s been nearly 10 years since these two sides met, much has changed and much remains the same. Sam Whitelock is the only remaining player remaining from the sides that took the field that day.

Last time the Flying Fijians and All -Blacks played

12 days shy of 10 years ago, Fiji, led by Deacon Manu and coached by Samu Domoni were outclassed by an All-Blacks side 60-14, a side that went on to win the World Cup later that year. The All-Blacks were in red hot form leading into the match, dropping only 1 of the last 20 games before they took to the park against the Flying Fijians.

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Huge strides for the Flying Fijians

While Fiji’s 2011 World Cup campaign was nothing to write home about, it was essentially a Fiji side in a rebuilding phase after the success of their 2007 predecessors. And since that World Cup, Fiji has seen its game as a whole take to another level. We only have to look to our Island brothers Samoa and Tonga to see how the game moved forward and if nothing was done post 2011, we very much could have been left behind. The stigma of a weak scrum and set piece still lingers over our National side and whilst the rolling maul in particular has been found wanting on occasion, the scrums and lineouts have stood up against all comers.

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The front row

Speaking of the scrum, coach Vern Cotter has gone with the same starting front row that played Georgia in last years Autumn Nations Cup. Peni Ravai at loosehead, Brive’s Mesake Doge at tighthead and Northampton’s Sam Matavesi at hooker. They are up against Crusaders pair George Bower and Codie Taylor, and Blues tighthead Nepo Laulala. Nearly 90 caps between the All-Blacks front row with the Fiji trio notching 34 tests respectively.

Our front row had a clean sheet against Georgia in their last outing winning all their scrums and also turning one over. Matavesi has been in a top form for the Saints this season improving his throwing accuracy and work on the ball so expect to see him being a pest at the breakdown. Ravai comes into the match after probably his best season in the Top 14 and will be full of confidence.

Fiji won all their scrums against Georgia and also stole one.

Off the bench

Peniami Narisia makes his debut off the bench along with Haereiti Hetet who plays his second test and the veteran Leeroy Atalifo. Narisia will provide great impact and punch while Hetet and Atalifo are more than capable of holding their own in the scrum. A great mix of youth and experience in the front row. If Fiji are to have any chance of winning this game then it starts here.

The Tall Timber

In the locks department New Zealand have a slight height advantage with Brodie Retallick standing 4cm taller than Leone Nakarawa with Temo Mayanavanua and Patrick Tuipolotu both at 198cm. Fiji lost 2 lineouts against Georgia but also won one back with the younger pairing of Mayanavanua and Tevita Ratuva who will come off the bench in this match. Ratuva will provide a bit more grunt off the bench.

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Young Temo was impressive in his last outing and will look to dent the All-Blacks line with his strong carries. Nakarawa could also be a big factor in this game given the closed roof and dry track. Should the game open up a bit his offloading will trouble the All-Blacks defense. He hasn’t played much Rugby this year but coach Cotter say’s Nakarawa has trained very well and has brought stability to the lineout.

Backrow

One of our stronger areas is the backrow. Cotter has opted to go with the same back row he did against Georgia. Johnny Dyer started at lock in 11 of his 18 games this season for Biarritz but comes back to his favoured position of flanker against the All-Blacks. His defensive work and jackling ability will be a huge plus for the Fijian pack. Dyer is the mobile forward in the back row with Mesulame Kunavula and Albert Tuisue offering size and power with their carries and defense.

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Tuisue is coming off a career best season at London Irish and is probably our form forward in this game. His aggression will be needed against a strong opposing pack like the All-Blacks. Kunavula was one of our best in his official test debut last year, constantly carrying the first defender and getting Fiji on the front foot. Mesu could play a huge role in Fiji creating momentum in the match.

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Secret weapon

Ok Peceli Yato being named on the bench is probably more to do with his limited preparation than saving our secret weapon till later in the match but either way the world class flanker will provide impact and will rip and tear when he gets on the field.

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As a whole

It doesn’t matter who is in the backline because this is where the game will be won. There’s nothing to suggest we won’t win our own scrums and lineouts going off what we’ve seen over the past 8 years. Man to man our boys actually stack up, obviously I’m a little biased here but I truly believe that. Vern Cotter has a good combination of size, mobility and aggression and still has class on the bench.

Wingers

The inclusion of Nemani Nadolo is huge. His clearing kicks from the Fiji 22 cannot be underestimated. He also will be used to get Fiji moving whether its one off the scrum or close to the ruck. He demands attention and will no doubt drag one or two extra defenders leaving opportunities for the offload.

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The “Sledgehammer” Eroni Sau is an exciting selection for Fiji fans. His big hits get all the attention but Sau has proven a lethal runner of the ball and if his inside men can create opportunities to get him one on one with George Bridge, I’m backing Sau everyday.

Centres

Levani Botia turned back the clock this year for La Rochelle. He has his work cut out with David Havili and Reiko Ioane opposing him but our captain is as much a threat as anyone in the Fiji backline. His jackling in the rucks is right up there with any forward in the Fiji team and will be crucial in slowing down the All-Blacks retention.

In the two matches against the Maori All-Blacks in 2019, Waisea Nayacalevu was our best back in both games. He constantly beat the first tackle and created half-breaks. There’s not many centres in Super Rugby who boast the size and speed of the Paris centre so he could cause problems for the oppositions outside men.

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Halves and Fullback

Ben Volavola’s last performance for Fiji was one of his best. He has taken his kicking game to another level and seems to be getting better with age. He will come under a lot of pressure and will be forced to run a bit more but a rushing defense could play into Volavola’s hands.

Kini Murimurivalu brings size and experience and will help young Simione Kuruvoli who has been thrown into the deep end. In only his second appearance for Fiji, Kuruvoli finds himself in a battle with veteran Aaron Smith and the might of the All-Blacks. An amazing opportunity for the young Kadavu halfback who will no doubt do us proud.

Substitutes

With no other halfback in the side, Cotter has opted for Brive fullback Setariki Tuicuvu as cover for scrumhalf, flyhalf and of course fullback. Cotter say’s Tuicuvu has trained really well and has been impressive in training. Eneriko Buliruarua makes his debut off the bench along with newly signed Western Force winger Manasa Mataele. Both Eneriko and Mataele offer size and speed and could get an opportunity late in the game.

The coach

Vern Cotter has instructed the team to go out there, make Fiji proud and lift the morale of the country who are doing it tough at the moment.

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He really hasn’t had the opportunity to instil some of his own methods, attacking and defensive style with this only his second test match in as many years. He say’s the team will aim to put pressure on the All-Blacks who have a lot of new combinations.

How Fiji can win

What Argentina did to the All-Blacks last year wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by coach Cotter. Argentina came out and punched New Zealand right in the face and kept the intensity up the whole match. Aggression, disruption and energy. Big men constantly charging into the line. On average Fiji have an extra 7kg per man across the backline and will no doubt have Nadolo, Botia and Murimurivalu used as extra muscle moving forward.

Must improve

Defending the rolling maul and goal kicking. Even the best teams struggle defending a good rolling maul but going off our past performances this is where they will likely target. Another area of concern is goal kicking. I don’t like being negative but we absolutely suck here and have for some time. Every match we leave points on the field due to missed penalties and conversions.

Prediction

I think we’re going to win. If not this game then the second. The All-Blacks are the most successful sporting team in history but to every Goliath there’s a David and I believe that through faith, effort and a bit of luck, the Flying Fijians can prevail. Final score Fiji 26-14 New Zealand.

Fiji Side
* indicates debut match

1 . Peni Ravai
2. Sam Matavesi
3. Mesake Doge
4.Temo Mayanavanua
5. Leone Nakarawa
6. Johnny Dyer
7. Mesulame Kunavula
8. Albert Tuisue
9. Simione Kuruvoli
10.Ben Volavola
11. Nemani Nadolo
12. Levani Botia (capt)
13. Waisea Nayacalevu
14. Eroni Sau
15. Kini Murimurivalu

16. Peniami Narisia* 17. Haereiti Hetet 18. Leeroy Atalifo 19. Tevita Ratuva 20. Peceli Yato 21. Setariki Tuicuvu 22.Eneriko Buliruarua* 23. Manasa Mataele *

How do you think the game will go?

Join in the conversation and let us know how you think the game will play out. Drop a comment below in comments section.

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