10 Jul 2021

Challenges aplenty for Fiji ahead of All Blacks test

7:34 pm on 10 July 2021

The All Blacks play Fiji for the first time in 10 years on Saturday night with fans hoping for more of a contest in Dunedin than last week's win over Tonga, but Fiji's build-up has been tough.

Nemani Nadolo scored a hat-trick on his return to test rugby.

Nemani Nadolo scores for Fiji. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Unlike Tonga, who had to pluck players from club rugby with many of their stars unavailable, Fiji have been able select their strongest team, bar a few players who will play for the Fiji sevens team at the Tokyo Olympics.

However Fiji's preparation has been just as difficult as the 'Ikale Tahi's, with coach Vern Cotter revealing three of his top players are stuck in Australia.

"A lot of the players have come from Europe. So, the managed isolation was a challenge in itself and the disappointing thing is not being able to get three players out of Australia with the trans-Tasman bubble being blocked."

New Fiji rugby coach, Vern Cotter

Vern Cotter. Photo: Photosport

He said Fiji would never complain about their lot, but he concedes they've had just one training session together as a full team before the match.

"We got three players out of MIQ on Wednesday, one is starting and another is on the bench. So, we've only just really got through the, 'How's everything? How's your family? Are you great?' and then we've got a test match."

Fiji is also being hit hard by a Covid 19 outbreak with 1500 new cases and nine deaths in the last two daily updates.

Wing Nemani Nadolo says some of the players have had family members die from the virus.

Cotter said his players are hurting for their country and they're vowing to do their nation proud.

"With what's happening in Fiji, the players attention to detail has been outstanding. A real focus and they want to put on a real performance. You'll see some true Fijian grit, some flair and real determination."

The Flying Fijians will wear a special jersey for the test, with Vaccinate Fiji written across the chest.

While the All Blacks are expecting a stiffer challenge from Fiji than Tonga that doesn't mean another mismatch is not on the cards.

Despite the All Blacks being heavy favourites and predicted to win comfortably, it will still be a special occasion for the Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith, of Ngāti Kahungunu and Fielding High School, who'll captain the All Blacks for the first time in his 98th test.

"It's a great moment for myself and my family. It's a massive honour that the coaches and management trust me enough to do the role. I've heard from a few people from my Iwi in the Hawkes Bay, at Kahungunu, and it's just very special in how much it means to my Māori side, my mother, my family. There's not much words I can say."

Smith will also be at the front of the haka, with Dane Coles leading for the second week in a row.