Fiji will provide a breath of fresh air in the quarters

A knockout place is a minimum requirement for a top team. Looking at the weekend’s results, you can’t be happy about the state of rugby among the Six Nations. When Wales, Italy and Ireland go out of the World Cup at the pool stage, when Scotland, England and France struggle, you have to conclude that the old tournament is no longer quite what it was.

It was inevitable that Wales coach Gareth Jenkins would be in for the chop after Saturday’s defeat and it was understandable.

The interesting thing is to compare what the Six Nations have brought to the party in France this year, compared to the islanders. The balance is very much in favour of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. If they could only hang on to all their players and keep them out of the clutches of New Zealand, seeing one of those three winning the World Cup some time in the future would not be astounding.

Bear in mind that there are plenty more players back in the islands with those ball-handling skills, and remember that Fiji have left their best player, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, on the sidelines because of his disciplinary problems. I’d say Fiji currently have the second-most exciting backline in the world, surpassed only by New Zealand.

The All Blacks are more tactical, but Fiji don’t do tactics. That is what brings a smile to my face and a little leap of delight to my heart. They have joy on their faces and run the ball from anywhere and everywhere. It’s champagne rugby, produced by exceptional players.

There was a good balance in Fiji’s game, thanks to Nicky Little and Mosese Rauluni — both former club mates of mine at Saracens.

Little will be a huge loss for them for the quarterfinal. His kicking game and his instinctive awareness of when to be restrained and when to let rip is a counterpoint to the unfettered play of the guys behind him.

That absence of game plans and chalkboards is, of course, what destabilises the opposition. On the ground, no coach can tell his team what to expect. You can’t prepare for the Fijians because you never know what you are getting. Rugby now is a robotic sport played by pre-programmed players whereas Fiji play what they see. They are a true ray of sunshine and they bring a different dimension to what we French call ”the third half” as well.

There is more to them than a willingness to run and party, of course. They are colossally aggressive in defence, right on the limit of what is legal. They have also stabilised things up front, even if there is still work to be done on their set-piece play. The Tongan forwards shook South Africa and they look an increasingly good all-round side.

One thing, in particular, has helped the islanders: the restrictions on players changing nationalities.

The All Blacks pilfered their best players for a generation, but the flow of talent has slowed down at least and the improvement in recent years is down to that.

It’s funny how throwaway comments take on new meanings after the event. At Saracens earlier this year both Kameli Ratuvou and Mosese Rauluni told me that they would surprise a few people in this World Cup. Well, they’ve managed that and Fiji will at least provide a breath of fresh air in the quarterfinals. — Â

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