Ahead of joining the Six Nations teams in competing for the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup (ANC), Fiji and Georgia’s men’s 15s programmes have benefitted from significant World Rugby support and investment.

Already around £3.25 million of financial support has been provided in 2020 as part of World Rugby’s strategy to increase the competitiveness of the international game.

The investment has been used to pay for travel, the cost of staging France-based training camps and COVID-19 support measures, as well as bringing in specialist coaching support staff as Fiji and Georgia look to build on their recent Rugby World Cup successes.

The positive results, however, are not entirely based on the number of ‘W’s’ in the win column, but the progression of local talent through to the test arena. And the gains made in that area is apparent in the make-up of both the Fijian and Georgian squads for the ANC.

Key development vehicle

“World Rugby sees the Autumn Nations Cup as vital in the development of Fiji and Georgia as future high-performing teams at a Rugby World Cup,” said Peter Horne, World Rugby’s General Manager for High Performance.

“Fiji and Georgia, along with Japan and Uruguay, are the standout emerging nations and have continued to improve over the last cycle.

“The aim is to help them to get ahead of the cycle for the next Rugby World Cup, not only in terms of blooding new players but also developing their brands of rugby.”

Thanks to World Rugby funding, Vern Cotter has been able to assemble a world-class coaching support team as he prepares for his first match in charge of the Flying Fijians, against France in Vannes on 15 November.

Former test referee Glen Jackson has come on board as a technical coach in a bid to improve discipline during the month-long tournament that sees Fiji also play Italy and Scotland in the group stages before an additional ‘finals day’ fixture.

Jackson is accompanied by fellow New Zealanders Daryl Gibson (backs) and Jason Ryan (forwards), plus former Springboks assistant Richard Gray (contact and breakdown), while World Rugby high performance strength and conditioning consultant Craig White brings with him considerable expertise.

White was part of the Uruguay coaching staff when Los Teros pulled off a shock 30-27 victory against Fiji at Rugby World Cup 2019 and has previously worked with the British and Irish Lions and Wales, as well as enjoying outstanding success in English club rugby with Wasps in the all-conquering Warren Gatland era.

Drua graduates ready to shine

World Rugby also helped to keep Fiji Drua’s players on contract after Australia’s National Rugby Championship (NRC) was cancelled for 2020 due to COVID-19, and that enabled them to be considered for selection for the Flying Fijians.

Back-row enforcer Albert Tuisue, hooker Mesulame Dolokoto and scrum-half Frank Lomani won the NRC with the Drua in the side’s second season in 2018 and are now valued members of a Flying Fijians’ squad that contains nine locally-based players.

Tuisue scored twice in the Drua’s 36-26 grand final victory against Queensland Country and is definitely one to watch in the ANC after a strong season with London Irish in the English Premiership.

Lomani’s background is even more embedded in the thriving Fijian rugby system. He played for Fiji Warriors (effectively the country’s second XV) as well as the Drua and went to Rugby World Cup 2019 after taking part in the World Rugby-funded High Performance Combine for Pacific Island players.

While Tuisue, Dolokoto and Lomani are all in their mid-20s and hopefully still have plenty of test appearances ahead of them, World Rugby continues to invest in coaching and development courses for Pacific Island players with a view to life beyond playing.

Former Fiji second-row Simon Raiwalui now holds a prominent role within Fiji’s high performance department, and it is hoped that many others will remain in the game and follow in his footsteps in the years to come.

Morriss plays a major role

Underpinning Georgia’s bid to negotiate a tough-looking group containing newly-crowned Six Nations champions England, Ireland and Wales is a strengthened coaching team headed up by Levan Maisashvili.

World Rugby High Performance Advisor Calvin Morriss is a name familiar to Lelos rugby fans from his involvement with the squad at Rugby World Cup 2015. Georgia won two pool matches for the first time at that tournament and qualified automatically for Japan 2019 as a result of their third-place pool finish.

Morriss was also senior national fitness coach of the England team when they won Rugby World Cup 2003 in Australia.

In between the Rugby World Cup 2015-19 cycle, Morriss achieved outstanding success with British Cycling but now returns to his rugby roots to help Georgia.

“We are a key partner in their programme, with aspects from the daily training environment to the head coach and many of their high performance staff funded through World Rugby investment,” said Horne.