Tokyo, JAPAN – October 11, 2019: 11am (SMH): Fiji will remember the 2019 World Cup as the one that got away, after running hot and cold in the group stages cost John McKee’s team a quarter-final berth in Japan.
But there is reason for cautious optimism about the future of the Flying Fijians, and Pacific Islands rugby more broadly, with Australia and New Zealand set to play Fiji within the next two years.
Under a draft proposal for World Rugby’s 2020-2030 global Test calendar, which the Herald verified with two separate sources, the Wallabies will host Fiji after the two-Test series against Ireland next July. The All Blacks will play them in 2021.
There was talk of taking the Wallabies game to Fiji but the expense, and likely infrastructure and logistical challenges, means it is almost certain Australia will host the match.
While a deal has not been finalised or announced, it would be the third time in four years the two nations have played each other. It would also be a quality follow-up match after Ireland’s two-Test tour.
Rugby Australia has not decided where to play the Test but will target cities with large Fijian communities.
Fiji gave the Wallabies a fright in their opening pool stages clash in Sapporo last month, leading 21-12 early in the second half before a four-try bonanza sealed a 39-21 comeback for Australia.
They fell to Uruguay in the second big upset of the tournament four days later but beat Georgia 45-10 and hit their stride against Wales on Wednesday. The 29-17 loss ended their quarter-final hopes but was labelled the match of the tournament to date.
Fijian centre and former NRL player Semi Radradra lit up the match with his attacking exploits,in a performance his side could have done with against Australia and Uruguay. Notwithstanding reports he is contemplating a return to rugby league, Radradra would be a huge drawcard for RA next year.
More broadly, the new schedule will be the first step towards what the so-called tier-two nations have wanted for years: regular Test matches against tier-one sides.
Fiji hooker Samuel Matavesi, who plays professionally in England, was blunt about what his side needed after its exit on Wednesday.
“Itâ€™s playing top nations constantly. Like Argentina in the Rugby Championship. Argentina were a very good team before but – if youâ€™re playing New Zealand, South Africa and Australia week-in week-out – itâ€™s going to help you,” Matavesi said.
“Weâ€™re the same. Itâ€™s no disrespect to who we play but, if you want to be a power in these tournaments, you have to play the best people all year.
“We can show that we can definitely compete. I think if you ask Wales and Australia, it wasnâ€™t an easy game for them. I donâ€™t think any game has been easy at the World Cup.
“I think, looking back to 2003 and how itâ€™s changed, it can only get better. But if we want to get better, hopefully we can play a lot more teams and a lot more often.”
The news comes at a sensitive time for rugby in the Pacific Islands. Rugby league has made great strides in Tonga and has gained a foothold in Fiji. A Prime Minister’s XIII, comprised of NRL players from teams that did not make the finals, is touring the country and will play a Fijian side in Suva today.
The World Rugby schedule, known as the “San Francisco agreement”, was ratified in 2017 but shelved while it tried to launch the failed Nations Championship last year.
It is now back on the agenda and includes a 39 per cent increase in tier-one versus tier-two fixtures, with emerging nations integrated on merit.
The major tier-one nations – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, France, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – will regularly play the likes of Tonga, Samoa, Japan, Fiji and others on their annual tours.
It will also include home Tests for the likes of Georgia against top nations, and regular match-ups between other emerging Test sides such as Romania, the USA and Canada…..PACNEW