'A special moment': Wallabies bracing for emotional onslaught against Fiji
SPOTLIGHT: Boosted by seven players with Fijian heritage in their World Cup squad, the Wallabies are preparing for a physical – and emotional – onslaught in their crucial World Cup pool clash against the Pacific islanders.
Fiji are expected to enter the Saint-Etienne match on Sunday breathing fire after they fell short against Wales in their opening pool game.
The Fijians rallied from a 14-32 deficit, scoring twice in the last seven minutes before former NRL star Semi Radradra knocked on close to the line in the dying seconds, condemning his team to a 26-32 loss.
The Wallabies, meanwhile, had an easier time in their tournament opener, banking a 20-point win over Georgia to sit top of Pool C, with two teams moving through to the quarterfinals at the end of the preliminary phase.
Barring any upsets through the pool stage, those results mean Fiji must beat Australia to clinch a play-off spot.
Wallabies wing Mark Nawaqanitawase celebrated his 23rd birthday at a French primary school on Monday, with the students serenading him before they swamped the players for autographs.
Of mixed Fijian and Italian heritage Nawaqanitawase briefly considered playing for the island nation before deciding to represent his country of birth.
“There was one of those moments where for a split second I was thinking of going down that path but I guess I’m grateful for how things have turned out,” said Nawaqanitawase, who scored one of the four tries in Australia’s win.
“It’s obviously pretty special, having Fijian heritage, and I’ve been been watching them ever since I was growing up as well and there’s a few players in there as well that I’ve looked up to.
“Sunday will be a special moment for myself and the family and it’ll be a very exciting match.”
Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi, Langi Gleeson, Suliasi Vunivalu, Rob Valetini and Issak Fines-Leleiwasa are the other players with Fiji blood ties.
Putting the Australians on notice, Fiji totalled 1106 run metres in Bordeaux, forcing the Welsh to make a staggering 237 tackles.
Radradra, who played 94 games and scored 82 tries in the NRL for Parramatta before switching codes in 2017, topped the tally with 160 metres.
The athletic Nawaqanitawase, who has been likened to former Wallabies fullback Israel Folau for his skill in the air, led the Wallabies’ charge with 143 metres from his 13 carries.
He acknowledged his team would need to stiffen their defence after the Georgians found some gaping holes, particularly in the outside channels.
“It shows how much the Fijians are carrying the ball, so credit to Wales, they defended well and we managed to get the win,” said Nawaqanitawase.
“I think any team coming up against Fiji is going to have to tighten up a few things.
“We’ve had that game and we’ve got to fix up a few things and obviously each game we want to improve.
“We’ll want to tighten up and make sure that we’re connected because they’re going to bring a lot of mystery. They can do anything out of nothing so we’ve just got to make sure we’re connected and ready for a couple of things.”