x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fiji squad needs filling in for Rugby World Cup

Part of the problem, writes Kevin Affleck, is New Zealand's sanctioning of the team's military members

Leone Kakarawa will be absent for Fiji when they visit New Zealand today.
Leone Kakarawa will be absent for Fiji when they visit New Zealand today.

A Pacific Island nation defeated the No 2-ranked union team last week, sending a shock through the world of rugby less than eight weeks before the start of the Rugby World Cup.

"It's history to us, beating the No 2 team in the world," Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua, the overjoyed Samoa coach, said after the victory over Australia.

However, the chances of a second Pacific Islander team going one better today and defeating the top-ranked Antipodean nation, when Fiji play New Zealand, are remote.

Already denuded by the absence of the suspended Sisa Koyamaibole and Waisea Luveniyali, and the injured triumvirate of Gabriel Lovobalavu, Kini Murimurivalu and Talemaitoga Tuapati, Fiji will also have to do without Isa Nacewa, Vilimoni Delasau and Rupeni Caucau, who have not been released by their northern hemisphere clubs.

Leone Nakarawa is also absent.

Why is the lock missing, you ask? Because he is a soldier in the Fiji army and New Zealand have imposed a travel ban on members of the Fiji military since a military-led coup in 2006.

New Zealand have warned they will not lift the sanctions without Fiji's interim leader, Voreqe Bainimarama, making a commitment to hold elections before 2014.

The move could attract accusations of double standards - Joe Rokocoko, the New Zealand wing, is married to the daughter of a major in the Fiji military. Even more galling for Fiji: Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, his fellow wing, were born in Fiji and could have been lining up in white tonight rather than All Black. To his credit, Samu Domoni, the Fiji coach, is managing to remain optimistic.

"There are a few things that have been involved in selections … but we can control what we have at the moment," he said. "The guys that are here have the heart to play for Fiji and that's what matters. It's a matter of heart."

Although the already uphill task of facing the All Blacks in their citadel of Carisbrook in Dunedin now appears mountainous, one crumb of comfort for the visitors could be the possible teething problems the home side will experience in testing a new game plan. "We've looked at the game, looked at the trends, and we'll play differently than we did last year," said Graham Henry, the New Zealand coach.

kaffleck@thenational.ae


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