Fiji ready to spring surprise in Pool A

SUVA (Fiji) • While Pool A of the Rugby World Cup is regarded as a pool of death with marquee sides England, Australia and Wales battling for the two play-off spots, fourth-seeded Fiji see only a "pool of opportunity".

They believe they can muscle their way into a quarter-final slot, and even if they do fall short, they aim to finish in the top three of the pool to be guaranteed a berth at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

That means targeting Wales and reliving their glory days from the 2007 World Cup when they beat the Six Nations side and made the knockout stages.

"There has been talk of the pool of death. For England, Australia and Wales perhaps it is. For us it's a pool of opportunity," coach John McKee said.

"I believe that we can perform very well and can win games against Tier One nations."

Former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer is also a believer, picking Fiji to knock off one of the big three.

"That's how serious a threat they are," he said. "I think they're going to take a major scalp and that will ensure that whoever they beat won't get out of the pool."

After making the quarter-finals in 2007, Fiji had an awful 2011 World Cup where they again drew Wales in pool play and were crushed 0-66. But four years on, they are a sharper, more skilled unit under McKee.

In the first match after he took charge last year, Fiji beat Italy for their first win over a Tier One side since their historic victory over Wales seven years earlier.

They narrowly lost to Wales 13-17 when down to 14 men in Cardiff at the end of the year, and then thumped the Cook Islands 108-6 in the World Cup qualifier at the start of this year.

They further displayed their credentials when they beat Pacific arch-rivals Samoa to win the Pacific Nations Cup in a tournament featuring fellow qualifiers Tonga, Japan, the United States and Canada.

The victory propelled Fiji to ninth in the world rankings, just three spots behind Wales, catching the attention of England coach Stuart Lancaster.

"That was an impressive performance against Samoa and I can assure you there aren't just two teams in our pool who are threats," he said on England's team website.

England play Fiji to open the tournament at Twickenham on Sept 18.

Two days later, Wales take on Uruguay, with their World Cup hopes hit by the losses of first-choice scrum-half Rhys Webb and full-back Leigh Halfpenny.

Webb, last season's Welsh Player of the Year, was yesterday ruled out of the tournament after he suffered a foot injury during the 23-19 World Cup warm-up victory over Italy in Cardiff on Saturday.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has called Mike Phillips and Eli Walker into his World Cup squad to cover for the two injured players.

Scrum-half Phillips has won 94 caps for Wales and was a surprise omission when Gatland named his 31-man tournament squad, while Ospreys wing Walker made his international debut against Ireland last month.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'Fiji ready to spring surprise in Pool A'. Print Edition | Subscribe