Fiji rue missing players for Thomond Park clash
Fiji have made six changes to the side which lost 54-12 at Twickenham last Saturday as well as a couple of positional switches. Surprisingly though, Toulouse winger Timoci Matanavou, last season’s leading try scorer in the Top 14 is on the bench.
The changes see Simeli Koniferedi on the right wing, Josh Mataveise at centre, Jonetani Ralulu at outhalf, Jerry Y Anuyanutawa at loosehead, Iliesa Ratuva at blindside flanker and Nemani Nagusa at number eight. Furthermore, Metuisela Talebula switches from outhalf to fullback (where he played against Gloucester on Tuesday), while Api Naikatini reverts to the secondrow. They look very strong in midfield with Leicester’s Vereniki Goneva and Exeter’s Josh Matavesi.
Matanavou joined the Fiji squad on Sunday as a replacement for Gloucester backrower Akapusi Qera, who was released back to his club after helping out an injured-ravaged side against England. Matanavou featured in their 31-29 defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm, his try helping them to an 18-0 lead before two second-half yellow cards helped Gloucester recovered from a 28-17 deficit to win 31-28.
The team announcement had been delayed pending a couple of late arrivals, such as Matanavou, who apparently had problems with his visa.
Comings and goings
Comings and goings are not unusual for the Fijians on this tour, and coach Inkike Male has made clear his displeasure over the unavailability of European based players. Male reckons “we are missing more players than players available”. For this reason, he admitted yesterday he was “not very happy for sure”, though “whether it is the clubs or the players” at fault, he was unsure; an example being Montpellier’s ex-Ulster winger Timoci Nagusa, who has not linked up with the squad.
He has been critical of French clubs not releasing his players and it was on foot of an objection by the Fijian Rugby Federation that their French counterparts banned Jone Qovu from playing for Racing until the completion of their tour after the supposedly injured lock played for the Parisians against Perpignan on October 27th. Yesterday in Limerick, Male declined to comment.
However, in light of bright starts in both tour games to date, Male said: “We need not to fall off during the last quarter of the game, we have emphasised that to the players.”
Ireland, he believes, will be “just like England, they will be very structured because that’s the way they play.”
Fiji will be led again by the 33-year-old Scarlets tighthead Deacon Manu in the absence of the injured Netani Talei. Having played in front of 82,000 in a game granted Test status at Twickenham to a venue where over 15,000 tickets have now been sold for a game not afforded Test status could be interpreted as a slur by the Fijians.
“We’re still representing our country and that is a huge honour,” maintained Manu. “There are opportunities for guys to put hands up and cement a place for the following week; we go into it as any international so we don’t get influenced by the team in front of us or the size of the venue or the size of the crowd, we’re just there to get things right for us moving forward.”
Similarly, the carrot of beating Ireland would be just as sizeable regardless of match status, said their captain. “Yeah, it would be huge for the guys, it would be our first win on tour . . . However, Ireland might be inexperienced in international terms but they have vast experience, more than our guys, in the top level such as the Heineken Cup.”
FIJI:Metuisela Talebula; Simeli Koniferedi, Vereniki Goneva, Josh Mataveise, Watisoni Votu; Jonetani Ralulu, Nicola Matawalu; Jerry Y Anuyanutawa, Viliame Veikoso, Deacon Manu (capt); Leonee Nakarawa, Api Naikatini; Iliesa Ratuva, Malaki Ravulo, Nemani Nagusa. Replacements: Tuapati Talemaitoga, Manasa Saulo, Setefano Somoca, Apisai Ratuniyarawa, Kelemedi Bola, Saularadid/Ravai Fatiaki, Timoci Matanavou.