TOKYO, 10 Oct - It never quite happened for Fiji at Rugby World Cup 2019. While the Pacific Islanders both thrilled and infuriated their fans at times - mixing power and profligacy in equal measure as they gave Australia and Wales real scares before inexplicably losing to Uruguay - they never quite delivered on their pre-tournament promise.
Ranked ninth in the world before the tournament, the highest of all the Tier 2 nations, there was very real hope that Fiji could somehow find their way out of Pool D and reach the last eight for the first time since 2007. Last November, they scored a historic win over France, and with optimism building, scrum-half Frank Lomani even suggested they were capable of reaching the World Cup final.
So where did it go wrong? Rugbyworldcup.com analysts have probed the data to identify some of the key reasons why they are on an early flight home.
Going into the World Cup, Fiji ranked as the worst kicking team in the tournament and they more than lived up to that billing. Overall, they succeeded with just 50 per cent of their kicks at goal, worse than any other any country at Rugby World Cup 2019. Even Namibia, who have slotted 78 per cent of their kicks across three matches, far outperformed the Fijians on that front.
Against Uruguay, Fiji’s wayward kickers proved particularly costly, turning an almost certain victory into defeat. Overall, Ben Volavola and Josh Matavesi missed five of their six kicks, costing them 11 points.
In the final pool game against Wales, Volavola failed to capitalise on a frenetic opening 10 minutes in which Fiji scored two tries. Instead with Wales feeling the heat, he missed both, albeit difficult, conversions. This limited the deficit to 10-0, one that was soon hauled back by the brilliance of Josh Adams.
This leads us nicely onto Fiji’s defensive limitations. Their first-half displays against Wales and Australia showed them at their flamboyant best, excelling in broken play before their more illustrious opponents figured out how to grind them down and exploit their vulnerabilities.
For while Fiji often scored freely, they also conceded 108 points and 15 tries across their four matches. Defensively, they ranked 13th in terms of tackle success, above the likes of Namibia, Russia, Georgia and USA, but behind Samoa, Tonga, and Scotland.
Individual brilliance but lacking team cohesion
The Flying Fijians are often characterised by their individual flair and in Semi Radradra they have arguably the player of the tournament so far. Nicknamed "Semi Trailer", Radradra, shown in action below, has been unstoppable at times. Based on the statistics for all games up to Fiji’s clash with Wales, he tops the standings for both carries (62), metres gained (400), and defenders beaten (29), and he ran the Welsh backline ragged in Oita.
Fiji have only been able to translate that into a complete team performance in patches. It seems a little harsh to criticise them given their paltry resources compared to the likes of Australia and Wales, but Lomani’s pre-tournament words once again ring true.
When making his prediction that Fiji were capable of making the World Cup final, he added the caveat, "only if we’re given proper preparation". Lomani and others firmly believe that Fiji can challenge the Tier 1 nations if they are given longer training camps together to build cohesion as a squad. Time will only tell whether that will enable them to challenge at future World Cups.