Renown worldwide for a thrilling and unpredictable style of rugby, Fiji are considered by many as the most exciting team to watch on the international stage.
Mosese Rauluni knows what it’s like to be part of this environment. As well as playing for and captained the national team, he’s also been to Rugby World Cups as an assistant coach for Fiji.
With Fiji’s men’s side now building to the start of the Autumn Nations Cup in November, and the women preparing for their first-ever Rugby World Cup next year, Rauluni sat down with World Rugby to speak about five of the most iconic victories in the history of Fijian rugby.
Defeating Wales at Rugby World Cup 2007
Fiji faced Wales in a quasi-play-off match to close their pool at Rugby World Cup 2007 in France. Fiji would go on to secure their first quarter-final appearance in 20 years in one of the most famous upsets in the history of the tournament.
After narrowly beating Japan by four points, and then Canada 29-16, Fiji were outplayed by Australia after fielding an understrength side.
Mosese Rauluni captained the Flying Fijians in France, and, looking back, felt that those “really good games” had them well placed ahead of the Wales decider.
After trailing 3-0 to Wales early, Fiji took control by scoring 25 unanswered points. But a try by Welsh number eight Alix Popham late in the first half, followed by a yellow card to Fijian flanker Akapusi Qera, made for an interesting second period.
“We knew that the boys had it in them,” says Rauluni. “I was just hoping that it wouldn’t be a typical Fiji, 50-or 60-minute game.”
After trailing 25-10 at half-time, Wales took control by scoring four straight tries, including a Martyn Williams intercept, which gave them a 34-31 lead inside the final ten minutes.
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“The good thing is, when we were losing with that intercept try from Martyn Williams, I knew we had a chance after we got in the huddle after that try.
“The boys were calm, the boys just said, ‘kick it short and we’ll send our flanker Semisi Naevo, up to try and retrieve the ball’. We did that until Graham Dewes scored the try.”
Loose-head prop Dewes crossed with three minutes to go, and Fiji held on for a famous four-point win.
“Just to be involved, it still gives you goose bumps, but I still haven’t watched the full match yet.”
Olympic gold at Rio 2016
Fiji had never won a medal at the Olympic Games in any sport, but with rugby returning to the world’s foremost sports competition in 2016 through sevens, there was plenty of expectation that that was about to change.
Fiji overcame Brazil, Argentina, and USA in the pool stage, before facing New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
After trading tries, Fiji crossed for the eventual winner with five and a half minutes to play and controlled the match from there. They survived a last-ditch attack from the New Zealanders after the siren had sounded, winning a penalty at the breakdown to end the match.
After defeating Japan 20-5 in the semi-finals, Fiji dominated Great Britain in the gold medal match. Scoring five tries to none in the first half laid the foundations for what was an emotional, 43-7 win.
“It was the first time that they’d been in the Olympics, and it was Fiji’s only gold. It was really inspirational for Fiji.
“Fiji was at a real low then with the coup, so it really brought good spirits back to the people of Fiji.
“Those boys deserve all the credit that they get because to win gold, it’s outstanding. It overtakes everything that Fiji has ever done.”
First Rugby World Cup Sevens win in 1997
Sevens legend Waisale Serevi promised Fiji that his side would “bring back the Melrose Cup” from Rugby World Cup Sevens 1997 in Hong Kong.
The tournament was only the second Rugby World Cup Sevens, but the first time it was held in the iconic adopted home of the sport’s seven-player format.
Fiji didn’t conceded a point before the semi-finals, where they faced Samoa, who had just ended England’s hopes of securing back-to-back Rugby World Cup Sevens titles. Fiji bettered their rivals 38-14.
In the other semi, South Africa defeated New Zealand, as they looked to back up their 15s Rugby World Cup victory two years before with a sevens crown.
In the final, two tries from Andrew Venter saw South Africa make the most of a strong start, running out to a 14-0 lead. But Fiji kept looking for opportunities, and managed to score through Marika Vunibaka, but still trailed by seven at half-time.
Fiji scored three straight tries to gain control after the break, with chants of ‘Fiji, Fiji’ erupting around the stadium.
Both sides played an expansive and energetic style of play, constantly looking for offloads in what truly was one of the greatest sevens matches of all time.
Rauluni is first cousins with Serevi, and remembers the victory which was “pretty special to see” considering how much it still means to the island nation.
“The sevens boys, I’m not sure where they get these guys from, they’re all just massive and fast. All those guys just had speed and power.
🗓 21 years ago, @fijirugby won their first ever #RWC7s in Hong Kong. Relive it all with sevens legend Waisale Serevi as he tells the story of Fiji at Rugby World Cup Sevens 1997— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) July 11, 2018
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“To play a team like South Africa, who had a lot of guns in that team, and to win and win well, it was very emotional for Fiji.”
Fijiana qualify for first Rugby World Cup
Fifteen years after playing their first test match, Fiji’s women’s rugby team made history last November by qualifying for their first Rugby World Cup.
Fijiana qualified through the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship 2019 in Lautoka, Fiji, where they defeated Samoa twice in just over a week.
They won 26-7 before a much more convincing 41-13 win in the decider.
Fly-half Lavena Cavuru outscored Samoa on her own, finishing with 21 points. Full-back Aloesi Nakoci also impressed, crossing for two tries.
“I got the chance, just before the 2015 Rugby World Cup when I was coaching, to go and do a session with the women,” Rauluni commented.
“I went and watched them in Brisbane when they played the Queensland Reds, and I couldn’t believe how much they’d developed.
“For Fijiana to get into the World Cup is another big thing. Just watching the way they played here, they were tough and playing hard.”
Fiji defeat Les Bleus at Stade de France
Fiji defeated France at Stade de France in 2018, in a victory that Rauluni feels was “up there with beating Wales”.
Fiji and Les Bleus traded five-pointers throughout the opening 40, but it was the two tries from the visitors that particularly impressed.
Semi Radradra charged through the French defensive line to open the scoring on the 20-minute mark, before Josua Tuisova finished off a brilliant set-piece play that showcased Fijian flare.
“We were physical with them and had some big runners who broke the line and really impressed. Josua Tuisova, who played for Toulon (now Lyon), he was massive and that really started his 15s career with Fiji.”
After France led 14-12 at the break, Fiji kept the hosts scoreless in the second, giving fly-half Ben Volavola the chance to kick his side to a famous victory with three second-half penalties.
"That's up there with one of the greatest victories.
“I was just so happy when they won because it was another big scalp, especially away from home.”