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Positive end result

Fred Wesley
Wednesday, August 05, 2015

WHAT a relief that was! Staggered by the poor finishing of the Flying Fijians in recent escapades at international level, fans were yesterday finally rubbing their hands in glee. Beating Manu Samoa 39-29 in the final of the Pacific Nations Cup competition yesterday was special.

We had dominated the Maori All Blacks at the ANZ Stadium last month only to succumb to a second half comeback that cost us the game 26-27.

The Maori stole the game from right under our noses.

We then beat Tonga 30-22 the next weekend in the opening round of the PNC in Suva.

In that match, a last minute try to replacement front rower Peni Ravai sealed Tonga's fate after the lead had changed hands a number of times.

Manu Samoa held Fiji to a 30-30 draw in our second game of the PNC.

We then beat Eddie Jones' Japan 27-22 to set ourselves up for the final, against Samoa again yesterday.

In all our games, we were caught wanting in the second spell.

It was worrying. And it wasn't a reflection of our first half efforts.

It seemed we went out to play a game of two different halves.

We dominated the opening spell, went into the breather on a high, only to come back for the second spell half asleep.

Yesterday was different. There was renewed vigour. We dominated the opening spell and stayed in the game until the end, even in the face of a yellow card that cut our numbers and threatened to steal the game from us.

A number of factors stood out.

It was comforting to see our scrums continue to improve. Tighthead prop Manasa Saulo is slowly shining through as a beacon of hope for us in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup next month.

He was solid at number 3, a position that isn't for the faint-hearted.

Veteran Sunia Koto was outstanding at hooker, connecting well with our jumpers at line-out time.

Lockforward Leone Nakarawa was on fire in general play and a tower of strength in the line-outs.

Our backrow played a prominent role in recycling possession and connecting the pack to the backline.

Then there was Nikola Matawalu at halfback.

He passed at the right time, kept the opposition defence on the backfoot, and probed gaps in heavy traffic when Samoa least expected it.

He linked up well with Josh Matavesi at flyhalf and replacement pivot Ben Volavola who came in with a bit of the unorthodox touch that saw a cross-field kick finding its mark, resulting in a try for Fiji. There were many heroes for the national side yesterday.

The challenge though for McKee is to find the right combination that can inflict damage against the might of Australia, England, Wales and Uruguay in Pool A of next month's Rugby World Cup in England. That is when we get a reality check.

The countdown has already started.





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