The time for hurting has passed, and smiles are back on Fiji’s faces.
The Fijians needed a couple of days to process the bitter disappointment of losing to Samoa 27-7 last Sunday, a result which has virtually eliminated them from making the World Cup quarterfinals a second time.
But returning to Tauranga, the North Island port city where they started in New Zealand, has served to recharge the Fijians’ bodies and help focus their minds on an opponent they know they can top, Wales in Hamilton this Sunday.
Fiji coach Samu Domoni said he hasn’t had to try to perk up his players. They have restored their motivation themselves.
“You can see they are laughing and enjoying themselves,” he said on Wednesday.
Captain Deacon Manu added: “We just want to have fun. In the preparation, we’ve really tried to enjoy ourselves off the field. We haven’t been enjoying the journey too much over the past three weeks. So we’ve been trying to get our minds off rugby.”
Fiji retain a slim mathematical chance of advancing from Pool D, but it might have better luck grasping a fishing line with a shark hooked on the end.
At the very least, the Fijians want to leave a better impression on World Cup fans than what they showed in the hidings inflicted by South Africa and Samoa. Against the Springboks, Fiji was competitive, but the manner of the defeat to Samoa in front of 60 000 at Eden Park left a bitter taste.
Fiji didn’t fire a shot against Samoa until the match was nearly over. Nicky Little, Fiji’s caps and points record-holder and Manu were moved to apologise for the woeful effort.
“It’s been disappointing,” Manu said. “We’ve played well in phases. We set high standards for ourselves, especially after the last World Cup, so we wanted to emulate that. We haven’t been able to do that.”
Pio Tikoisuva, the manager and acting chief executive of the Fiji Rugby Union, was also prompted to warn team critics — including national selector Mosese Taga — that now was not the time to be pointing fingers or seeking heads to roll.
“We fully understand the emotional consequences of the loss to Samoa,” Tikoisuva said. “We have a game to go and we are trying to get our boys to focus on this game. We are not looking beyond the Wales game. Our focus is on Wales at the moment.”
Domoni and Manu promised to shake up the line-up. There was a need for a boost of enthusiasm and determination.
“This Sunday is a critical and emotional game,” Domoni said “We will inject some energy at selection.”
Nine of Fiji’s 30-man squad have yet to start in the World Cup, including front-rowers Setefano Somoca, Waisea Nailago and Talemaitoga Tuapati, flanker Rupeni Nasiga, scrumhalf Vitori Buatava, centres Albert Vulivuli and Ravai Fatiaki, winger Michael Tagicakibau and fullback Iliesa Keresoni.
Tagicakibau was the only squad member yet to see any action. He injured both of his shoulders in the draw with Wales in Cardiff last November, then had shoulder surgery in February. One of his first matches back was in a World Cup warm-up last month against Tonga.
“That game against Tonga was a pretty shocking game for me personally, it was my first game in five months,” Tagicakibau said. “It didn’t go very well and dented my confidence a little bit and it took me a while to get over that mentally.”
He was disappointed not to have a chance to oppose his brother, Samoa winger Sailosi, last weekend, and hoped he was picked to play Wales.
“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get up there in this World Cup,” he added. “This week is probably the biggest week for me. I’d like to go out there and have a good game against Wales.”
Fiji have had no problems with Wales lately. They beat the Welsh 38-34 in an epic World Cup match four years ago to reach the last eight, then they drew 16-16 less than a year ago in Millennium Stadium.
“We love playing Wales,” Manu said. “The second-last time we beat them and last time we drew with them at their home ground. They won’t take us lightly now, so we’ve got to be prepared for a challenge and make sure we finish on a high. We need to get things right tactically. We need to play in the right areas and have a good mix.” — Sapa-AP
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