'The Islands are the future': Fiji ready for expanded Rugby Championship

In their first match against the All Blacks since 2011, Fiji on Saturday evening produced a thoroughly entertaining and competitive performance in Dunedin, only succumbing to a 57-23 defeat after a ruthless final quarter by the home side.

The Flying Fijians brought physicality, structure and tempo to the test and troubled the All Blacks for the best part of an hour. The side’s lack of preparation time as a squad leading up to the test seemingly did not show, as some nicely worked interchanges saw them rack up three tries in 60 minutes.

Considering some of the names missing from the Fijian squad for this two-test Steinlager Series with the All Blacks, head coach Vern Cotter will most likely be pleased with how his side represented themselves, both on and off the pitch on Saturday.

The likes of Semi Radradra (included in the Fijian sevens squad for the Tokyo Olympics), Lyon’s Josua Tuisova and Edinburgh’s Viliame Mata all superstar names missing from the roster this time around. Not to mention players included in Cotter’s squad unable to make the journey from Australia to meet up with the team due to COVID-19 outbreaks – Frank Lomani, Mosese Sorovi and Teti Tela all desperately unlucky to miss out this time around.

Since their last clash with the All Blacks at Carisbrook back in 2011, Fiji have gone on to register wins over Scotland and France, and have also proved very competitive at both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

With Japan looking to further their potential as a rugby nation off the back of a pool-topping outing at their home World Cup in 2019 by expanding into The Rugby Championship by 2024, fans were quick to suggest Fiji should follow them in a ‘Southern 6 Nations’ type competition.

Fiji’s head coach Vern Cotter argued his side had shown enough to warrant more games against Tier 1 opposition, with just eight points separating Fiji from the All Blacks heading into the final twenty-odd minutes.

“If you can get those games more often, you get to measure yourself against the best teams more often, you will improve. That kind of competition does improve them,” he said.

“I think they’ve shown enough in this game to be offered opportunities to play those games, I hope so. It will be a great challenge to further develop the Fijian talent.

“There is some talent from the Island that need exposure. There are a lot of things to develop Fiji Rugby to be up there, but they’ve got amazing, explosive athletes. And it is a joy to watch them play.

“To see them more often against good teams, it will be great.”

Currently, Fiji compete in the Pacific Nations Cup, a tournament aimed at improving the competitiveness of tier-two nations. They have won the competition five times in the last decade.

The topic of promotion and relegation is a frequent point of discussion for fans and pundits of the Six Nations, which begs the question whether Fiji, with its host of European superstars, would benefit from inclusion into The Rugby Championship for regular competition against tier-one opposition.