21 Sep 2019

Sport: Flying Fijians ready for Rugby World Cup opener

6:31 am on 21 September 2019

The Flying Fijians are primed and ready to make a statement in their Rugby World Cup opener against Australia this afternoon.

The 2007 quarter finalists managed only one win apiece in the previous two World Cup campaigns but have been tipped as a genuine contender to make the knockout rounds in Japan.

The Flying Fijians kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign at the Sapporo Dome on Saturday.

The Flying Fijians kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign at the Sapporo Dome on Saturday. Photo: Supplied/Fiji Rugby

The Wallabies were too strong for Fiji when they met in the pool stage four years ago but coach John McKee says his team has made massive progress since then.

"Our squad has probably been a bit more settled. Last time I came in just over a year out from the World Cup, so we were still working on our combinations going into the World Cup. I think this time we're much more stable around the team.

"We've got better depth across all positions - I think overall our squad is much stronger...but now it's time to put all of that into action in what we actually do and achieve in the games."

John McKee expects the Wallabies to stick with the up-tempo game that overwhelmed the All Blacks in Perth and says the Fijians will relish the chance to go toe to toe under the Sapporo Dome roof.

"It's amazing, it's absolutely perfect conditions to play rugby. Quite a number of our players play in France and they compare it to the Racing Metro stadium in Paris, where they play indoors also, but the difference here is we're on grass as well, which we prefer so it augurs for a great game of rugby because none of the elements can interfere."

Fiji practice the Cibi at the Sapporo Dome.

Fiji practice the Cibi at the Sapporo Dome. Photo: Supplied/Fiji Rugby

"We will take our chances. Michael Cheika might think his team is unpredictable (but) I'd like to think we've got some unpredictability about us as well and I think with the type of players we've got in our outside backs but it's not just our outside backs, in amongst our forwards as well who can run in open space and offload and pass that given some opportunity I think we can put in some unpredictability in attack as well."

McKee believes Fiji can equal anyone in the world at set phase play, He was not surprised to see Australia name both David Pocock and Michael Hooper in their starting line-up and says whoever dominates at the breakdown will probably win the game.

"The contact zone, ruck zone, post tackle is going to be big indicators to the outcome of the game and for us it's important that we can be very effective in that area when we've got the ball to ensure that we can get continuity and get quick ball.

"It's been a big work-on for us through our campaign and the fact that those two are playing doesn't really make any difference to the work we've done, or we've had focused in that area because we know what a hotly contested area it will be."

Captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu is playing in his third World Cup.

Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu will have to deal with David Pocock and Michael Hooper at the breakdown. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Fijians will probably need to beat Australia or Wales to have a shot at reaching the knockout rounds, but John McKee doesn't believe there's any added pressure riding on the outcome of today's match.

"Every game in the pool is important and I think that if we can win tomorrow, which we hope we can do, then it makes the win easier but it's not the end of the day either."

Flying Fijians coach John McKee.

Flying Fijians coach John McKee. Photo: RNZ Pacific

Wallabies firmly focused on Fiji

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper says his side is itching to get their Rugby World Cup tournament underway.

The openside flanker, who will renew his on-field partnership with David Pocock at the Sapporo Dome says the team has been counting down the days until kick-off.

"We've been looking at this game for a while now and definitely certain players within their team have been highlighted within that. (They have) a lot of guys who have had some good time in Europe playing and we're very aware of the threats that these guys have across the park: big forward pack, fast, fit athletic men so definitely ready for what they have to offer and it's definitely going to be a great challenge to kick-off where we're at."

Michael Hooper of the Wallabies celebrates a Try during the 2019 Bledisloe Cup test match against the All Blacks.

Michael Hooper and the Wallabies are raring to go. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

However, Hooper brushed off concerns their attacking style could play into Fiji's hands.

"We've got to play our game. We've got to play how we've been preparing that we've been focusing on. And there's elements of both for us - yes, we want to go where the space is and you can call that unpredictable but it's just playing what's in front of you and that's going to be a good thing against Fiji, there's potential there."

Wallabies vice-captain Samu Kerevi is one of three Fiji-born players in Australia's starting fifteen.

The former Fiji Under 20s representative was born in Viseisei but moved with his family to Australia when he was four and says emotions will be high when he runs out against the country of his birth.

"This will be my first time playing Fiji. I know everyone in Fiji is pretty excited, everyone has been talking about it back home. I can only speak for myself, but my family have got a whole day programmed waiting for the game: barbecues, breakfast, the whole family is coming too to our home and really backing Fiji and the Fijians in our team as well and our team. I think there's just an excitement all around, the buzz of World Cup and the buzz of us vs our own nation."

Samu Kerevi will play against Fiji for the first time in the Wallabies' World Cup opener.

Samu Kerevi will play against Fiji for the first time in the Wallabies' World Cup opener. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

His older brother Josh Kerevi even spent a few days in the Flying Fijians camp in Akita last week, where he plays for the Northern Bullets in the Japanese third division.

But Kerevi the younger insists he didn't demand any inside intel on the opposition.

"No, I just had him keep the information, I didn't ask him too much. I just know they've been preparing really well. Like Hoops said they've got an awesome forward pack there and a lightning backline so I'm just excited by the challenge ahead and, like Hoops said, we've been preparing for this game for a while so it's exciting times ahead."

Fiji and Australia (playing here in 2017) will face off in their 2019 Rugby World Cup opener.

Fiji and Australia (playing here in 2017) will face off in their 2019 Rugby World Cup opener. Photo: AFP