Fiji vow to put on a show and lift the gloom at Murrayfield after head coach Vern Cotter names an all-singing, all-dancing backline to face Georgia
- Fiji had to forfeit all three pool matches in the Autumn Nations Cup due to Covid
- The Pacific Islanders are fired-up to make a box-office statement at Murrayfield
- Bristol centre Radradra and Leicester wing Nadolo feature in exciting backline
Fiji’s great entertainers are ready to burst out of their COVID isolation with a swashbuckling display against Georgia on Saturday – as a timely antidote to the current mood of negativity in rugby.
After having to forfeit all three pool matches in the Autumn Nations Cup due to an outbreak of the virus in their squad, the Pacific Islanders are fired-up to make a box-office statement at Murrayfield.
Head coach Vern Cotter named a side led by Bristol centre Semi Radradra at the heart of an all-singing, all-dancing backline, and recalled Leicester wing Nemani Nadolo is confident that Fijian flair can raise spirits in the sport.
Leicester wing Nemani Nadolo has been recalled by Fiji to face Georgia on Saturday
‘There are a lot of complaints about the way rugby is going at the moment, so we’re really pumped to show the way we can play,’ he said.
‘We’re excited to play our brand of rugby and hopefully put a smile on the faces of people who’ve not been too happy with the game. Our new coaching staff want to give us the licence to express ourselves and that really excites us.
‘We need to make sure we are playing in the right part of the field, but you don’t want to be just kicking the ball into their half. There is some structure in how we want to play, but the main thing is that if it’s on, it’s on. We have the personnel who can light up a dance floor with ball in hand.’
Nadolo’s words will be warmly welcomed by so many viewers who have grown weary of watching a series of autumn Tests dominated by defences and aerial duels. Asked to assess what he has seen so far, the 32-year-old added: ‘As a ball-running winger, it is tough to watch – kicking and chasing rather than ball-in-hand play.
Head coach Vern Cotter (above) is confident that Fijian flair can raise spirits in the sport
‘To be fair, I think it’s more in the northern hemisphere. The onus here is on winning games through defence rather than attack, but let’s not beat around the bush, it does get boring when you’re watching endless kicking. Hopefully it’s just a phase.’
Fiji’s belated entry into this high-profile event comes at a time of renewed calls for fair treatment of the Pacific Island nations by rugby’s global hierarchy and Nadolo added: ‘We know we’re not just representing Fiji this weekend. ‘There’s an onus on us to represent everyone on the islands and show everyone what we’re made of. Hopefully if we do well, we’ll see more of those teams come in. We can lay a claim.’
The Fijian squad have come through a protracted ordeal to take part in tomorrow’s fixture in Edinburgh. A cluster of positive COVID tests saw their tournament opener against France cancelled shortly after Cotter had named a team for the highly-anticipated encounter in Vannes. Soon after, it became apparent that the outbreak had spread, so the subsequent matches against Italy and Scotland were also abandoned.
Cotter’s squad have been isolating in a French hotel. It turned into a grim and gruelling experience. ‘It’s been a tough time but it’s brought us together and made us even tighter – going through what we’ve been through,’ said Nadolo. ‘Now we’re all pretty pumped that we’ve got a chance to play.
‘We each had our own hotel room and we had to stay in it on our own for two weeks. We just got on with it. We had a lot of Zoom calls to communicate with each other. There were a few days where some of the boys were getting quite down and struggling. Us Fijians are a happy bunch and we like to be around people so you can imagine how tough it was for us to not be able to do that. But we came through it and it has made us stronger.’
There is a collective sense of regret about missing out on a golden opportunity to prove that Fiji deserve more regular Tests against rugby’s leading nations. ‘When we found out about this competition, we came into it with high hopes,’ said Nadolo. Their optimism was well-founded.
It is a terrible shame that Cotter was unable to pit his team against France, Italy and Scotland. They appeared to have the credentials to claim a major scalp or two and really shake up the established order. That chance was wrecked by the virus, but the great entertainers are finally ready to deliver a one-off reminder of rugby’s positive aspects, and save this tournament as a spectacle.