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The Underdogs: Fiji

The Underdogs: Fiji

The Underdogs: Fiji

Fiji are no strangers to European opposition and will once again lock horns with some of the continent’s best in the Summer Nations Series.

Following the conclusion of the Pacific Nations Cup this weekend, the Flying Fijians will make the trip north in anticipation of the World Cup, taking on hosts France before completing their tournament preparations against England at Twickenham.

They have a new coach at the helm, but the results have been immediate, with victories over Tonga and Samoa marking an impressive start to the Simon Raiwalui era.

Their 2022 Autumn Nations Series campaign yielded defeats to Scotland and Ireland but they will hope different opposition translates to improved results – here is all you need to know about one of this summer’s underdogs.

The Coach – Simon Raiwalui

Simon Raiwalui could not have joined Fiji at a more exciting time.

Drafted in to replace former Scotland boss Vern Cotter in February, Raiwalui will lead the country of his birth to their ninth Rugby World Cup later this year.

Prior to his appointment, Raiwalui had been Fiji’s high performance director, with previous coaching experience in France and Australia.

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A former second row, he made 39 appearances for his country between 1997 and 2006, scoring four tries.

He played across Europe for Sale Sharks, Newport, Saracens and Racing Metro 92 and remained with the French club after his playing days as part of the coaching staff.

Star Player – Waisea Nayacalevu

Colossal centre Waisea Nayacalevu has aged like a fine wine and continues to terrorise international defences 11 years on from his international debut.

The captain is one of the side’s most experienced stars at both club and country level, having wracked up 32 appearances for Fiji and more than 200 games in the Top 14.

Waisea Nayacalevu

He made Paris his playground during a 10-year stay with Stade Francais, helping the Pink Army to the Top 14 trophy in 2015 and Challenge Cup two years later.

He then joined Toulon in the summer of 2022, winning his second Challenge Cup after scoring in the final as his side dismantled Glasgow Warriors in Dublin earlier this year.

And he picked up where he left off in the summer, scoring in Fiji’s Pacific Nations Cup opening round victory over Tonga.

One to Watch – Kalaveti Ravouvou

Sticking in the backs, Kalaveti Ravouvou has established himself as one of the side’s rising stars, with his versatility making him an attractive option.

The 25-year-old impressed for the Drua in Super Rugby with his hard carrying. Beyond that tight work, Ravouvou is a creative force with pace to burn when offered space.

He scored on his international debut in the Pacific Nations Cup against Tonga two years ago and also finished off a wonderful team move in Fiji’s defeat against Ireland in last year’s Autumn Nations Series.

He has primarily started at centre so far during his career but was deployed on the wing in coach Raiwalui’s second game in charge, so it will be interesting if he makes the positional switch a permanent one.

Future Prospects

Fiji finished 10th at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in South Africa, losing all three of their Pool games.

That said, there were some pleasing moments. They gave Australia problems in their opener, running in four tries and went one better against Ireland, with five tries coming in a 47-27 defeat against the eventual runners-up.

A first win came against Italy but they were unable to secure ninth, going down 43-22 to Argentina.

Among those to impress were prop Moses McGoon, centre Epeli Waqaicece and full-back Isikeli Basiyalo as Fiji improved from their 11th place effort four years previously, when a 59-34 victory over Scotland saved them from relegation to the World Rugby Trophy.

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