Rugby World Cup: Fiji back to full strength vs Georgia

10:49 am on 2 October 2019

A full-strength Flying Fijians side has been named to take on Georgia in their penultimate pool match at the Rugby World Cup in Osaka on Thursday.

Just four players have been retained from the starting line-up that suffered a shock 30-27 defeat by Uruguay last week, with prop Manasa Saulo joined by captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Leone Nakarawa and Semi Radradra, who have started all three games.

Uruguay's Santiago Civetta in action during the team's upset win over Fiji at the Rugby World Cup.

Fiji were stunned by Uruguay in Kamaishi. Photo: AFP

"This match against Georgia was always going to be a key match in this pool and nothing has changed," said head coach John McKee.

"There is plenty at stake in this game as a top three finish in our pool means automatic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023."

"We know Georgia's strengths and are prepared for a battle around the set pieces and the breakdown," he said.

Flying Fijians coach John McKee.

Flying Fijians coach John McKee. Photo: RNZ Pacific

Dominiko Waqaniburotu said Fiji have put the "pain" of the previous match behind them and are determined to bounce back with a strong performance.

"We're keeping our heads up after the result of the last match and there's just excitement for the team to finish these two games on a high and that's what the boys are focused on now. We've got some boys back from injury and that's a really big boost for the team," Waganiburotu said.

Former sevens star Semi Kunatani has been declared fit to make his World Cup debut on the openside flank, while coach John McKee also welcomes back Peceli Yato, who gets the nod over Viliame Mata at number eight after missing the Uruguay game with concussion.

"Peceli has been a big loss for us. In that game against the Wallabies he was in outstanding form and at the time he got injured was probably one of the best players on the park at that time. He was a big loss to us but he's progressed through his return-to-play protocols very well and he's trained fully with the team today so he's really ready to go," said John McKee.

Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu.

Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu. Photo: RNZ Pacific

Australian winger Reece Hodge was later suspended for three games for the tackle that concussed Yato.

Tackle sanctions have been one of the major talking points of the World Cup but John McKee said the Flying Fijians are comfortable with their approach.

"Certainly around the collision situations we've put a lot of focus in that area. From the time that the directives (from World Rugby) came out, which must be three or four months ago now, we've been really working on our tackle technique, making sure that our players make low tackles so that we don't run foul with the sanctions...but also with the ball carriers and what they do with their arms in contact as well is also an important thing," McKee said.

Peceli Yato scores the game's first try during the first half of the match.

Peceli Yato is back after recovering from a bout of concussion. Photo: AFP

After a quick turnaround between their first two games, McKee said it's been good to spend some extended time on the training paddock.

"There was a lot of disappointment following our game in Kamaishi. We certainly didn't get the result we were seeking there but the players have, to me, bounced back strongly and we've really trained and it's been good for this game to have a full cycle, an eight-day turnaround, give us time to regroup and actually have a full weeks training leading into this game, so our preparation has been good," McKee said.

Georgia were thumped 43-14 by Wales in their tournament opener before bouncing back with a comfortable 33-7 win over Uruguay on Sunday.

The Flying Fijians have beaten the Lelos (Georgia) twice in three previous meetings, including a 22 point win in Suva last year.

Fiji ran in six tries against Georgia.

Halfback Frank Lomani was among the tryscorers when Fiji beat Georgia last year. Photo: Zoomfiji

McKee is expecting another typically physical encounter.

"They will come to the game with a big set-piece and maul, we'll have to be absolutely on top of our game in those areas but they're a lot of strong ball carriers as well. We'll have to work hard in defence to cut down those strong ball runners close to the rucks, not to give them any gain-line advantage or opportunities," McKee said.

"We also believe that if we can play well against them and execute well there will definitely be opportunities for us around the edges of the field."

First five Ben Volavola said they needed to be more clinical with the ball in hand.

"A couple of passes went down, opportunities went down when we played against the Wallabies and then again in our last game against Uruguay. This week was massively aimed at executing well and executing the simple things of the game and really focused on doing that on Thursday," Volavola said.

Ben Volavola,  Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Leone Nakarawa will all start against Georgia.

Ben Volavola, Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Leone Nakarawa will all start against Georgia. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Leone Nakarawa said the Fiji players wanted to show what they were capable of.

"We can't change what's happening in the past now. The real motivation is just to stick together as a team and play for your brothers and those who are close to you. Right now the ones are close to us is just the players and our families back in Fiji," Nakarawa said.

Flying Fijians team:

1. Campese Ma'afu, 2. Samuel Matavesi, 3. Manasa Saulo, 4. Tevita Cavubati, 5. Leone Nakarawa, 6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), 7. Semi Kunatani, 8. Peceli Yato, 9. Frank Lomani,

10. Ben Volavola, 11. Semi Radradra, 12. Levani Botia, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu, 14. Josua Tuisova, 15. Kini Murimurivalu. Reserves: 16. Ratu Veremalua Vugakoto, 17. Eroni Mawi,

18. Peni Ravai, 19. Apisamole Ratuniyarawa, 20. Viliame Mata, 21. Nikola Matawalu, 22. Jale Vatubua, 23. Josh Matavesi.