Fiji have only twice made it to the quarter-finals of a Rugby World Cup, but they head to France more confident than ever of getting out of the pool amid a swell of momentum in the rugby-mad nation.
The success of Super Rugby franchise Fijian Drua and a clean sweep in the Pacific Nations Cup has boosted expectation levels and the Flying Fijians appear ready to take flight.
Eroni Mawi (Saracens), Peni Ravai (Queensland Reds), Jone Koroiduadua (Fijian Drua), Mesake Doge (Fijian Drua), Luke Tagi (Provence Rugby), Samu Tawake (Fijian Drua), Tevita Ikanivere (Fijian Drua), Sam Matavesi (Northampton Saints), Zuriel Togiatama (Fijian Drua), Isoa Nasilasila (Fijian Drua), Temo Mayanavanua (Northampton Saints), Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta (Fijian Drua), Albert Tuisue (Gloucester), Lekima Tagitagivalu (Pau), Levani Botia (La Rochelle), Vilive Miramira (Fijian Drua), Meli Derenalagi (Fijian Drua), Viliame Mata (Edinburgh)
Frank Lomani (Fijian Drua), Peni Matawalu (Fijian Drua), Simione Kuruvoli (Fijian Drua) Caleb Muntz (Fijian Drua), Teti Tela (Fijian Drua), Josua Tuisova (Racing 92), Semi Radradra (Bristol Bears), Waisea Nayacalevu (Toulon), Iosefo Masi (Fijian Drua), Selesitino Ravutaumada (Fijian Drua), Vinaya Habosi (Racing 92), Jiuta Wainiqolo (Toulon), Kalaveti Ravouvou (Fijian Drua), Sireli Maqala (Bayonne), Ilaisa Droasese (Fijian Drua)
Fiji were one of several countries to make a late coaching change ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup having been under the stewardship of Vern Cotter up until February.
Cotter had been contracted to guide Fiji through the World Cup but was forced to step away for personal reasons and has been replaced by former Fijian international Simon Raiwalui.
The 48-year-old had previously been the general manager of high performance at the Fijian Federation before taking on the head coaching role.
Since retiring in 2011, Raiwalui has worked in various roles in club and international rugby, but this is his first head coaching position.
15. Sireli Maqala
14. Waisea Nayacalevu
13. Semi Radradra
12. Josua Tuisova
11. Selesitino Ravutaumada
10. Caleb Muntz
9. Frank Lomani
8. Viliame Mata
7. Levani Botia
6. Lekima Tagitagivalu
5. Temo Mayanavanua
4. Albert Tuisue
3. Luke Tagi
2. Sam Matavesi
1. Eroni Mawi
Fiji’s strengths have always been their outstanding physicality and ability to play off the cuff, maintaining the latter in an increasingly structured sport.
Their backs have often stolen the show and there are plenty of superstars amongst those selected to go to France, with Raiwalui keen to get the likes of Semi Radradra, Josua Tuisova and Waisea Nayacalevu on the ball as often as possible.
Fiji have often let themselves down at set pieces in the past, but they have worked hard to improve in that area and scrummaged well during the recent Pacific Nations Cup, while also demonstrating they’ve added a rolling maul to their arsenal.
Fiji’s pack has been weakened by the withdrawals from the squad of Api Ratuniyarawa and Peceli Yato, leaving them a little short of experienced loose forwards.
The Flying Fijians can also be guilty of overplaying at times when kicking for territory might be the more prudent approach, and this could lead to questions being asked regarding their game management.
Few players in world rugby are capable of operating at a high level at either centre or flanker, but Botia, nicknamed ‘La Machine’ in France, has shown he can fill both roles.
Formerly a prison guard, Botia looks at home either getting stuck into a ruck or bursting through the defensive line with ball in hand, making him a vital piece of the Fijian puzzle.
Bristol Bears didn’t always get to see the best of Radradra during his three-year stay at Aston Gate, mainly due to injuries, but the 31-year-old’s status as a rugby superstar is unquestionable.
Radradra is blessed with speed, strength and remarkable skill, with perhaps his unselfish nature to blame for his failure to score as many tries as his play probably deserves.
Radradra left Bristol at the end of last season to go to Lyon, where he will be replacing his potential midfield partner for Fiji in Josua Tuisova.
Much like Radradra, Tuisova’s mix of pace and power makes him a nightmare to defend against, with the 113kg centre tough to stop when he gets going.
Look for Tuisova to run over opponents as much as he tries to go around them.
The improvements made by Fiji in the forwards have allowed Northampton hooker Sam Matavesi to shine and showcase his talents.
Matavesi has become vital to Raiwalui’s plans for Fiji, and his graft and nose for the try line have seen him take on a much bigger role amongst the pack.
Elsewhere, Raiwalui put his stamp on the Fiji World Cup squad when leaving out Racing 92 fly-half Ben Volavola, with Caleb Muntz and Teti Tela left to battle it out for the number 10 shirt.
The more experienced Tela would appear to have the edge in that particular race, but Muntz was outstanding during the Pacific Nations Cup and there’s plenty of clamour for the 23-year-old to get the nod.
All odds correct at time of publishing and subject to change.