By Justin Palmer
Fiji want to finish with a flourish and return home from the Rugby World Cup with a victory that their spirited performances in defeat against the Pool A big guns have merited, coach John McKee said.
Having faced England, Australia and Wales, the Pacific Islanders bow out against Uruguay in Milton Keynes on Tuesday, knowing that things might have turned out differently had the Flying Fijians not been drawn in the toughest pool.
“It’s just the luck of the draw, isn’t it?,” McKee said. “Looking at the teams we came up against and looking at the others pools, hypothetically we may have had a pathway to the quarter-finals, or at least an easier pathway.”
Fiji caused England more than a few nervous moments in the second half of the tournament’s opening game and the final 35-11 scoreline might have been much tighter but for missed kicks.
Perhaps jaded, they lined up against the Wallabies five days later and battled hard in a 28-13 defeat in which flyhalf Ben Volavola scored a fine try.
Defeat against injury-hit Wales was one that perhaps got away for Fiji, who dominated the scrums in an epic battle in Cardiff, scored one of the tries of the tournament through Niki Goneva but still lost 23-13.
“I am really pleased with the way we have played in terms of the effort the players have put into the three games. It is a credit to everyone involved, albeit frustrating that we haven’t got a result in at least one of those matches,” McKee said.
“We came here with high ambitions and wanted to get one or two scalps in the first three games. But that doesn’t take away from this last game on Tuesday against Uruguay.
“They are a very tricky opponent and we will need to be at our best to beat them.”
One sour note for Fiji came with prop Manasa Saulo’s 10-week ban on Sunday for stamping on Wales lock Luke Charteris.
Uruguay’s predominantly amateur team, beaten 54-9 by Wales and 65-3 by Australia, got a glimpse of what to expect from the unpredictable Pacific Islanders when they lost 42-22 to a Fijian XV in a non-capped international in Montevideo in June.
“They don’t have a game plan, it is a disorderly team. Playing against a disorderly team often means that you end up disorderly too,” Uruguay back-row forward Agustin Alonso said.
Fiji: 1-Campese Ma’afu, 2-Sunia Koto, 3-Leroy Atalifo, 4-Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 5-Leone Nakarawa, 6-Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 7-Akapusi Qera (captain), 8-Sakiusa Matadigo; 9-Nemia Kenatale, 10-Ben Volavola, 11-Nemani Nadolo, 12-Lepani Botia, 13-Vereniki Goneva, 14-Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 15-Kini Murimurivalu
Replacements: 16-Wiliame Veikoso, 17-Peni Ravai, 18-Taniela Koroi, 19-Tevita Cavubati, 20-Netani Talei, 21-Henry Seniloli, 22-Josh Matavesi, 23-Timoci Nagusa
Uruguay: 1-Alejo Corral, 2-Carlos Arboleya, 3-Mario Sagario, 4-Santiago Vilaseca (captain), 5-Jorge Zerbino, 6-Juan Manuel Gaminara, 7-Matias Beer, 8-Alejandro Nieto; 9-Agustin Ormaechea 10-Alejo Duran, 11-Rodrigo Silva, 12-Andres Vilaseca, 13-Joaquin Prada, 14-Santiago Gibernau, 15- Gaston Mieres
Replacements: 16-German Kessler, 17-Oscar Duran, 18-Mateo Sanguinetti, 19-Mathias Palomeque, 20-Franco Lamanna, 21-Juan De Freitas, 22-Jeronimo Etcheverry, 23-Francisco Bulanti