Quarter Final Preview: Fiji vs England
By Loveni Enari
The Flying Fijians have been rocked by familial tragedies during the Rugby World Cup but feel the sadness has brought them closer together and will give them ammunition to beat England in their quarter final match at 4am Monday morning (16th October 23)
The first of the tragedies came when Josua Tuisova missed the funeral of his seven year old son after a long battle with illness. Just days before their rendezvous at Marseille with les Ros Bifs, hooker Sam Matavesi has returned to England after the death of his father.
Matavesi’s father Sireli Matavesi was a former test player and had been wheelchair-bound after surgery some years ago. His son has been enjoying a rich vein of form and after he returned to Fiji for a brief visit home for the funeral, he returned to Marseille on Friday. His brothers flew in with him to honour Sireli at the game as Sam takes his place in the starting XV and the boys of Bula hope to beat England for the second time in their history, a month after their first historic victory in August.
Seremaia Bai, Fiji’s kicking coach, told the media the time together for the squad has meant there was a closeness that went beyond being mere teammates.
‘It’s a very tough moment. We need to stay together and care for one another,’ said the former centre. ‘For us in Fiji family is everything. If one suffers, we all emotionally suffer.’
‘We are far away from Fiji, we have been 15 weeks from our own families since we started this campaign so we have become very close and make sure that becomes our family.’
The match takes on huge importance - not only for Pasifika people everywhere as Ikale Tahi and Manu Samoa have flown France’s shores - but rugby lovers in general as everyone’s second-favourite team attempts to bump the rich boys from the top table. It is the third time Fiji have qualified for the quarter finals after success in 1987 and 2007.
But for incompetent, biased refereeing in 1999 and 2015 it might have been their fifth - it’s doubtful there’s another team that has suffered more unfair, ‘unlucky’ referee’s bad calls in the history of the tournament.
Who can forget 1999 when referee Paddy O’Brien had possibly his worst day with the whistle, at the expense of Fiji, of course.
O'Brien made three crucial decisions which all went the way of France and allowed them to escape with a 28-19 win. After the match, O'Brien accepted that he had bungled..
"I lost the plot," he said.
The most incredible ruling came 10 minutes from time with Fiji leading 19-13 but under pressure on their line. O'Brien penalised Fiji and yellow-carded a Fijian prop, then ruled a penalty try for France when it appeared they were at fault.
To make matters worse, O'Brien then allowed several forward passes in a late French move which gave them the match-winning try.
This time it’s Frenchman Mathieu Raynal in charge, a man with controversial calls against England in the past. Let’s hope he has a good day and Fiji is not robbed again.
They can do it. I have no doubt. The traditional weakness of our Pasifika teams has been in the tight five forwards but this team is different. Their scrum is stronger than ever but will need to be to compete with one of the richest nations in world rugby.
The atmosphere in Fiji will be white-hot for the game. ‘I don’t call it excitement, I call it crazy back home,’ said Bai. ‘We’re passionate about rugby, everyone’s getting up early at three, five o’clock in the morning.’
‘We’ve just got to make sure we’re not just playing for a quarter-final, we’re playing for our people: young kids, people in the villages. It means a lot to them.’
‘If we win, I think there will be a one-week holiday in Fiji,’ he said. ‘It will be crazy.’
Crazy indeed! Toso Viti toso!
Loveni S. Enari is a Samoan journalist who’s spent most of his life in Spain as an English teacher, rugby coach, catering manager, journalist and father. He hails from the villages of Vaiala, Safune, Lepa, Nofoali’i and Wairoa.
Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air