On Friday, in swirling wind and rain at Twickenham, the Pacific Islanders displayed class despite losing to England, and showed more than enough to suggest they can cause considerable discomfort to Australia in their next Rugby World Cup Pool A game.
England’s 35-11 victory in the tournament opener in many respects flattered the hosts.
Fiji had a try disallowed, missed a number of kicks at goal, and for periods, taught the English a lesson at the stadium they call the Home of Rugby.
The Fijians were downbeat at the end, but can take heart from some tigerish defending and disciplined rucking as well as the more expected exciting running and crossfield kicking.
“They are disappointed in the dressing room,” Fiji coach John McKee told reporters afterwards.
“We came with high ambitions. At times we felt we had England under pressure but critical penalties and critical errors let England back into the game. Critical turnovers stopped our momentum.”
It was a momentum that, at times, threatened to pin the hosts to the ropes.
Nikola Matawalu showed a breathtaking turn of pace to sprint from the scrum to the tryline only to have a score ruled out by the Television Match Official.
Nemani Nadolo was also a constant danger, scoring an acrobatic try from a crossfield kick reminiscent of one scored by his cousin Lote Tuqiri for Australia in the 2003 World Cup.
Ultimately, they were undone by a little naivety and England’s superior fitness, and have plenty of draw heart from.
“When we had some ball and created some phases we put England under pressure but critical mistakes were letting us down and not letting us build on that pressure,” New Zealander McKee said.
“We have to be more patient. The players have a great desire to play, which is fantastic when they run the ball, move the ball. We need to hold on to possession more and not force the play so much.”
Next up for the Fijians are Australia in Cardiff on Wednesday.
“We have been doing a lot of work on the Australian game. We have five days now, time for good recovery and to brush up on a few areas where we had a few problems today,” the coach said.
“This pool was not decided tonight, that’s for sure.
“All these upcoming games, England will be looking at it and saying they have to sharpen up as well for Australia and Wales.
“A lot of things will happen before Oct. 10.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)