Fiji look to make early statement of intent
September 8, 2011
Fiji center Albert Vulivuli in action against the All Blacks in July © Getty Images
Surprise quarter-finalists four years ago, Fiji take their first step on a road that they hope will again lead to the knockout stages when they take on tournament minnows Namibia in Rotorua on Saturday.
If their previous meeting is anything to go by the Fijians should have little trouble in opening with a bonus-point clinching win, given that they ran in nine tries during a 67-18 rout of the Namibians when they met in Beziers in France during the pool stages of the 1999 World Cup.
Namibia have improved in the interim and in Jacques Burger, who will skipper them in New Zealand, they boast a genuine world-class back-row. However, the Saracens openside is one of the few full professionals within their squad and it is unlikely that their wait for a first tournament victory will come against the Fijians.
Indeed, while the Polynesians' preparations have been somewhat hampered by the controversy surrounding the entry of those members of their squad who have ties with the ruling militia in Fiji, they have as ever arrived at the game's showpiece event with a squad laced with wonderful attacking talent and are likely to prove one of the most exciting sides to watch in New Zealand.
Fiji - Player to Watch: Possessing epic pace and a phenomenal try scoring record, Nalaga will be the man to watch come Saturday. Having just secured a move to the Western Force for the 2012 Super Rugby season, Nalaga will hope to show the southern hemisphere watching public just what he is capable of.
Fiji - Team News: Nalaga is named on the left wing after he shrugged off the affects of a chest injury sustained in training on Wednesday, but Saracens ace Michael Tagicakibau has missed out with a hamstring strain so Vereniki Goneva starts on the right side. Nemia Kentale has been chosen to partner Waisea Luveniyali in the half-backs, while Gaby Lovobalavu and Seremaia Bai have been paired together in midfield. In the pack, captain Deacon Manu returns at tight-head prop after sitting out last month's clash with Tonga, while Viliame Veikoso takes over at hooker, with Sunia Koto only having been deemed fit enough for the bench because of a shoulder knock. Leone Nakarawa comes back in to the second-row, while Netani Talei will have Dominiko Maiwiriwiri Waqaniburotu and Mala Ravulo for company in the back-row.
Namibia - Player to Watch: It is hard to look past their inspirational captain Jacques Burger. He has starred for Saracens at openside and will be the fulcrum of the Namibian side.
Namibia - Team News: Coach Johan Diergaardt has made seven changes from their last run-out - against Georgia in the European Nations Cup in Bucharest back in June. Saracens flanker Jacques Burger will captain the side as one of the few professionals in the Namibian squad. In other changes to the side, wingers Danie Dames and Conrad Marais come into the XV and they are joined by inside centre Piet Van Zyl, Theuns Kotze, tight-head prop Raoul Larson and hooker Hugo Horn. Eugene Jantjies shifts from fly-half to scrum-half to accommodate Kotze.
Key Battle: The front-row will see an almighty battle. With the returning Deacon Manu looking to put down a marker at tight-head he will be up against the formidable front-row of Johnnie Redelinghuys and Raoul Larson. Campese Ma'afu is hardly a shrinking violet and alongside Manu, the Namibians will have their hands full.
Trivia: Namibian tight-head prop Marius Visser was the heaviest player at the 2007 World Cup, weighing 140kg.
Stats: Fiji's 67-18 win over Namibia at the 1999 World Cup is their record win in the competition, both in terms of points scored and points difference.
"I'm a bit nervous going into the first match of the tournament but we're ready to play Namibia. They're an unpredictable team. We know it's going to be tough."
"I played in the World Cup in 1999, so I know how nervous you can get.That's how you differentiate the good players from the really good players - how they deal with the nerves. If they can turn all that hype into positive energy they will do well."
Prediction: Fiji impressed in the 2007 World Cup but it is very difficult to predict exactly which side will turn up on Saturday. They have the firepower to despatch Namibia but it will not be an easy win.
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