Hypothetical Pacific heritage rugby teams: Fiji

Fiji performing the Cibi at the 2015 Rugby World Cup
Fiji performing the I Bole at the 2015 Rugby World Cup
Now, this is something that I have always pondered. How would the Pacific Nation sides shape up if they had a local competition to hold local talent and potentially draw back players who have strayed around the world.

In almost every top tier national side, you can find a Fijian heritage or born player. Think of Tevita Kurindrani for the Wallabies or Waisake Naholo for the All Blacks.

After starting rugby writing as a hobby last year, my good friend Ben Volavola returning to his home nation to represent Fiji and with their strong performances this year, it was inevitably that I put finger to keyboard to create a hypothetical Fijian team.

Over the next couple weeks I’ll post up heritage Samoan and Tongan teams. If you agree with me, you know a lot about rugby and have good taste, If you disagree, shame on you and I don’t want to hear it.

RUGBY WORLD CUP RESULTS:

As the dust settles on the Rugby World Cup, it’s time to break down the Flying Fijian’s tournament. They entered the competition brimming with confidence, off the back of their Pacific Nations Cup victory, yet the ‘Pool Of Death’ got the better of them.

With one victory and three loses, the pool results don’t reveal the strength of the side, largely due to the fact that they played three of the strongest nations in the world (Australia, Wales and England). In any other pool they may have had a good chance of qualifying for the finals.

After strong performances against England (35-11), Australia (28-13) and Wales (23-13), the Flying Fijians finished the World Cup on a high note, running in 7 tries on the way to beating Uruguay (47-15.)

THE HYPOTHETICAL FLYING FIJIANS

To qualify for this side, a player needs to have been born in Fiji or have Fijian heritage which would allow him to qualify for the side. Current allegiances to other countries have been ignored.

This forward pack would have a typical Fijian blend of size, pace and razzle dazzle, combined with the leadership and experience of players like Michael Leitch.

The backline could potentially be the most dangerous in the world, brimming with potential threats who can score from anywhere on the paddock.

Here is my side:

STARTING XV (International Team) – Professional Club (Competition)

1- Campese Ma’afu (FIJI) – Provence (Aix) Rugby Club (PRO D2)

Named after Wallabies great David Campese, he grew up along side his younger brother Salesi in Australia. Since first being named in the Fiji squad back in 2010 he has been a mainstay in the front row.

2- Sunia Koto (FIJI) – Narbonne (PRO D2)

Aged 35 Koto has had a long international career, making his Fijian debut in 2005 and appearing in three Rugby World Cups (RWC). Majority of his professional rugby has been played for the London Welsh and Narbonne, while he managed to receive two caps for the Pacific Islanders side in their final year (2008).

Koto was a large part of the strong Fijian forward pack, which has vastly improved in 2015.

3- Salesi Ma’afu (AUSTRALIA) – Toulon (Top 14)

Brother of Campese, these siblings were the first oppose each other for different countries on the international stage, when Salesi made his debut for the Wallabies in 2010. Salesi come through the Australian representative sides before being picked up by the Waratahs academy, followed by the Brumbies and Western Force.

The Ma’afu brothers have played together for Warringah in Sydney’s Shute Shield competition and they would be a formidable force if reunited under the white jersey.

4- Leone Nakarawa (FIJI) – Glasgow Warriors (PRO 12)

The 117kg, 6ft 6″ barnstorming lock has represented Fiji at both 7s and 15s level. As of Fijians exit from the RWC, Nakarawa lads the tournament for both offloads (10) and turnovers won (9), making him some freakish morph between Pocock and Sonny Bill Williams, only better.

Nakarawa also slotted in the top ten list for runs made (42) and carries over the gainline (19), and the top 20 for metres made (177m) and tackles made (34), making him lethal in both attack and defence.

His performance in the tournament had him named in the team of the RWC.

5- Joe Tu’ineau (TONGA) – Dax (PRO D2)

The Suva born Tu’ineau was a track and rugby star at Auckland’s prestigous King’s College, before chasing his dreams of a career in American football. A return to union saw him rise through the ranks of the Air New Zealand cup before being selected for the Highlanders in the 2010 Super Rugby season. An offer to play for Tonga in the 2011 RWC was to great, seeing him switch allegiance to the nation he has represented in two RWCs.

6- Dominiko Waqa’niburotu (FIJI) – Brive (Top 14)

At 6’5″ and 111kgs Waqa’niburotu is a versatile forward, who is equally at home at lock or in the the backrow.

After making his debut for Fiji against the Wallabies during June in 2010, he has thrived on the international stage, representing his nation at 2 RWCs.

7- Akapusi Qera (FIJI) – Montpellier (Top 14)

Qera, who can play anywhere in the backrow, comes from a sporting family. His brother and first cousin have also represented Fiji in rugby, while his father represented Fiji in international cricket.

His unique brand of physicality and combative rugby have seen him selected in the Fiji 7s squad, unable to play due to domestic commitments, the Fijian U21s and as the captain of his national side. A veteran of three RWCs, his blend of pace, power and flamboyancy have made him a household name around the world.

8- Michael Leitch (JAPAN) – Chiefs (Super Rugby)

Born in New Zealand to a Fijian mother, Leitch moved to Japan at aged 15 to continue his schooling. Earning his first international cap for Japan aged 20 in 2008, Leitch has gone on to become an integral part of the Japenese side, competing in two RWCs.

Leitch famously led the Japanese Brave Blossoms to a historic win against the Springboks in this years RWC, a result which has been touted as the biggest upset in world sport. He topped the tackle count (17) in the game, scored a try and made the important decision to turn down a kickable penalty to pursue the win.

His tactical gameplay and inspirational leadership would be of huge benefit to the Fijian side.

9- Nikola Matawalu (FIJI) – Bath (Aviva Premiership)

Matawalu’s creativity and game management have seen him represent Fiji at both 7s and 15 a side rugby. The 26 year old has made the move to Bath Rugby in 2015 after scoring 22 tries in 59 appearances for the Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12.

10- Ben Volavola (FIJI) – Crusaders (Super Rugby)

One of Australia’s brightest young talents, Volavola was stuck on the sidelines behind a Waratahs bench who all wore gold at some point this season. His career seemed stagnant only 6 months ago until he decided to change allegiance to his parents native Fiji, as well as cross the ditch to New Zealand for next years Super Rugby season.

With similar mannerisms and style of play to Wallaby great Stephen Larkham, few players make rugby look as simple as Volavola. He has an ability to freeze time, looking relaxed in the most tense of situations. Throw in his beautiful spiral pass in both directions and his pinpoint accuracy from the boot and he may just be a mainstay for the Fijian side for years to come.

11- Nemani Nadolo (FIJI) – Crusaders (Super Rugby)

The winger formerly known as Ratu Nasiganiyavi shares a similar history to Volavola. Growing up in Queensland, Nadolo shared Volavola’s aspirations of playing for Australia. After representing Australia at U20s level the chance to represent his native Fiji proved too great.

At 6’5″ and 125Kgs with blistering pace, it is no surprise his playing style has drawn similarity to Jonah Lomu over the years. Coming from a strong rugby bloodline, his relatives have represented Fiji and Australia on the international stage, most notable are cousins Loti Tuqiri and Tevita Kuridrani.

After joining the Crusaders in 2014, he has developed into a prolific try-scorer dotting down 22 tries from 27 appearances in Super Rugby. He is also a solid goal kicker, kicking 9 from 9 against Canada in a RWC warm-up match.

12- Samu Kerevi – Reds (Super Rugby)

Cousin of notable Australian international Redike Samo, Kerevi has thrust himself into contention for a Wallabies cap after only making his Super Rugby debut in 2014. Yet to don the gold jumper, he is still eligible to play for Fiji, however he has pledged allegiance to Australia and was selected in the 40 man Wallabies squad before being dropped prior to the RWC.

He possess an underrated passing game, which in conjunction with his barnstorming running game, make him a difficult customer to defend against. It is early days, but is he Australia’s answer to Ma’a Nonu?

13- Tevita Kuridrani (AUSTRALIA) – Brumbies (Super Rugby)

After making his Wallabies debut in 2013, Kuridrani has quickly established himself as one of the worlds premier outside centres. Prior to his signing for the Queensland Reds’ academy, he represented the Australian 7s side during the 2010/11 season.

A typical outside centre, Kuridrani’s 6’2″, 102kg frame proves lethal in attack, splitting defensive lines with hard run lines and always looking to make an offload or pass to the man outside him. He is likely to wear the green and gold for years to come.

14- Waisaki Naholo (NEW ZEALAND) – Highlanders (Super Rugby)

Ex-New Zealand 7s player Naholo broke onto the Super Rugby and international seen in 2015. His combination of speed, power and the x-factor have made him a formidable winger.

2015 saw the Fijian born winger as the highest try-scorer in Super Rugby for 2015, as he used his agility and pace to shred through opposition defensive lines. He was surely one of the worlds most dangerous wingers in 2015.

15- Waisea Nayacalevu (FIJI) – Stade Francais (Top 14)

Nayacalevu and his brother Avenisi Vasuinubu both started their rugby careers playing for Melbourne in the Victorian Rugby Championships. Whilst playing the Uprising 7s tournament in Fiji, both brothers were selected in the Fijian 7s side.

Nayacalevu made the shift back to 15 a side the following season and was selected to represent the Flying Fijians.

BENCH

16- Talemaitoga Tuapati (FIJI) – Provence (Aix) Rugby Club (PRO D2)
17- Peni Ravai Kovekalou (FIJI) – Greater Sydney Rams (National Rugby Championships)
18- Manasa Saulo (FIJI) – Timisoara Saracens (Divizia Nationala-Romania)
19- Nathan Hughes – Wasps RFC (Aviva Premiership)
20- Samuela Newa Vunisa (ITALY) – Saracens (Aviva Premiership)
21- Nemia Kenatale (FIJI) – Farul Constanţa (Divizia Nationala-Romania)
22- Henry Speight (AUSTRALIA) – Brumbies (Super Rugby)
23- Taqele Naiyaravoro (AUSTRALIA) – Glasgow Warriors (PRO 12)

Players who just missed out:

Sefanaia Naivalu from Australia.
Patrick Osborne from New Zealand.
Asiele Tikoratuma from Fiji.

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