What a series it has been. To play the best in the world in their own backyard and get a true indication of where the Flying Fijians stand.
Or is it?
Do the results actually give a true indication of how good our team is? If Coach Vern Cotter and the team had it all their own way in terms of preparation and player availability, how much better could they be?
Not taking anything away from the All-Blacks performance. They will be hard to beat good prep or not.
I don’t like complaining about the refs especially when there were 5 less penalties in this game as opposed to Game 1 but Damon Murphy may as well have jumped in the rucks himself. All-Blacks coaching staff and even former players publicly spoke about how the Fijians got really low and even employed disruptive tactics to slow them down and from where I sat it looked like Murphy was keeping an eye out for it. At times he was so close he got in the way of the defending players.
Not allowing the Fijian defense to get set after warning Leone Nakarawa to speak to his players was a poor decision compounded by the fact New Zealand scored a try while Fiji were still scrambling and Nakarawa yellow carded. A yellow card which was another contentious call as you can see in the gif below the ball was cleared. Aaron Smith was already in the motion of passing when Nakarawa rushed up.
After the game Cotter was visibly disappointed at the mistakes and poor discipline displayed when Fiji were right in the match. It allowed New Zealand easy yards and didn’t allow Fiji to build pressure on the All-Blacks line. They would get close enough through some stingy defense and forced penalties but turned it over just as easily. In the post match press conference he said “I think we need to change a few habits, I think we need to start taking into account that these things hurt us if we want to be competitive. We need to take that on board, we need a shift”.Embed from Getty Images
The Set Piece
The scrums Fiji seemed a little bit venerable at times giving away a couple of penalties. Out of their 6 scrum feeds they lost only 1 which is similar to Game 1 but what was most concerning was the lineout. Fiji lost 5 of their throws. To counter that New Zealand lost 2 of their own throws. The first time they had lost a lineout in their past 44 which is a small win for the Fijians.
I thought Eneriko Buliruarua played a great game. Hard running and hit just as hard in defense. He had the equal most tackles in the match with 9. He will take this experience back to his new club and should be one to watch in the future. Setariki Tuicuvu‘s offload to Buliruarua in the 3rd minute was a beauty and broke open the All-Blacks line. Fiji were not able to convert unfortunately as the last pass was knocked down by Damian McKenzie and had to settle for a penalty, taking first points. Tuicuvu’s speed and agility was enough to keep Reece at bay in their one-on-one encounters.Embed from Getty Images
As a collective though the defense will look to improve especially on their own line. Inside defenders probably could have been a little more urgent coming across as was evident in the games first try. There were new combinations out there for Fiji so whilst the All-Blacks exposed them at times the Fijian defense gradually got better and with players like Buliruarua and Tuicuvu gaining big match experience they will only become better players.Embed from Getty Images
Moses Sorovi got his first taste of test Rugby when he came on for Kini Murimurivalu in the 63rd minute, moving Frank Lomani to the wing. The game was out of reach at that stage. Going forward you would think Sorovi will become an integral part of the Flying Fijians. Along with Lomani and Simione Kuruvoli, there will be healthy competition for the halfback position.
Honestly I would have liked Fiji to take a little bit more of a ‘nothing to lose’ approach. Instead of taking penalty goals, kick to the corner and put it to the All-Blacks. By the time the Fiji pack tested their maul defense the game was all but over and Fiji were good enough to score through Peni Ravai.
Fiji were not without scoring chances though. Firstly the Buliruarua break that we mentioned and Ben Volavola’s intercept later in the match where he was brought down a metre short.
The addition of Lomani really got things going around the ruck and his speed and precision troubled the opposition in the earlier stages of the match.
For the most part things were a little sloppy, and we have to give credit to the All-Blacks. They were hungry and played with purpose.
On a brighter note
The future has never been brighter. Fiji Rugby has taken huge leaps forward and it will only get stronger from here. Players in top leagues all over the globe and the addition of the Fijian Drua into Super Rugby. What the Flying Fijians displayed against the All-Blacks justifies our plead to include Fiji in the Rugby Championship. But not to make up the numbers or give players exposure, but to give players the same platform to level up. We have the talent, and for the time being we’ll pay for the coaches but without a annual schedule of high intensity matches, we are forced back to square one every year.Embed from Getty Images
Let’s keep things in perspective
Team Fiji have been put through hell the last month. Having to fly over from the other side of the World, straight into isolated quarantine for 14 days. Coming out of Isolation, not all at once I might add with only a couple of training runs before taking on the All-Blacks. Add to that Sorovi, Lomani and Teti Tela only joining camp 4 days before the second test.
Rugby aside they have to watch as the covid crisis wreaks havoc on their homeland. On top of all of that the players individually are going through personal battles like not being able to see loved ones. For some it’s been a couple of years!
Watching the players in tears as they speak of some of the challenges their teammates and collectively as a team have had to endure.
Taking all this into consideration, how can anyone not be proud of how they handled themselves and how they performed?!Embed from Getty Images
Not just a game
It doesn’t matter where we are in the World. We are Fijians and we’re all connected. We all share the same love for our home and we all mourn for our people. So when our Rugby Team goes out there to take on the best the World has to offer, give their all and push their opponents just to put a smile on everyone’s faces, that is when we are reminded that Rugby is not just a game.
To all the Fijians reading this, please stay safe, keep each other safe and most of all love one another through these tough times. Nodatou na kalougata, kei na vakanuinui vinaka.
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