As with the majority of the Pacific Island nations, rugby union is at the heart of Fijian culture, with it being the most popular team sport in the country and something that continually draws people together over a shared passion.
They are not an unknown country in the wider rugby community, with them regularly touring the Northern Hemisphere each Autumn and testing themselves against Europe’s best, and they are never an easy team to play against due to their natural power and skill on the field.
When it comes to the Rugby World Cup, they are again no strangers, with the Flying Fijians making an appearance at every edition of the tournament so far except in 1995, when they failed to qualify, and have made it out of their pool on three occasions.
All in all, they are not a side to underestimate, and the calibre of players available to them means that they will always be a team worth watching.
Fiji are another team who have recently changed coaches, with former Scotland boss Vern Cotter departing in February for personal reasons and being replaced by Simon Raiwalui.
Raiwalui has only therefore had a short time to prepare for the trip to France, but what is on his side is that he knows his players already, with his previous role being the team’s General Manager for High Performance. That led to him playing a leading role in the introduction of the Fijian Drua to Super Rugby, ensuring that Fiji had a professional team that competed at a high level of the game and that would allow Fijian rugby talent to thrive without needing to move to one of the world’s major leagues around the world.
In interviews, he has stated that his aim as the national head coach is to bring the team and country together even more than it is already, with him believing in the spirit of the nation to get behind his players and to continually push his squad forwards, and he knows that his team will need that support from the stands and back home if they are to reach another quarter-final this time around.
With him only being in charge for a short period of time, Raiwalui’s overall game plan is not absolutely clear at this point in time.
However, given what he has stated about the way the Drua play, it is evident that he values set pieces during games and recognises that teams need to execute them correctly in order to gain possession and implement the rest of their tactics.
He also knows that teams need to be adaptable and to have different ways of playing, with there sometimes being a need to deploy a slower, phase-driven approach and sometimes to show moments of brilliance in open spaces as gaps in opposing lines open up (something that they did to great effect in their most recent match against England), and finding the right blend of those could be what allows Fiji to really shine at the World Cup.
Defensively, Fiji will focus predominantly on getting the basics right as they try to make themselves a tough nut to crack, and being tricky to break down will rely on the younger, less experienced players working well with those who have experience of competing at the highest levels of the game and who know what it takes to win.
The fact that there are players in their squad who have not played at a tournament of this magnitude could lead to some moments of hesitation, which could allow opposing sides to catch them out at times. However, with the calibre of player that they have in their squad and the desire that Raiwalui wants to instil, it can be expected that they will continually give it their all and will never give up until the final whistle has been blown.
With so many players in their squad experiencing a major international tournament for the first time, it could well come down to the performances of those who ply their trade outside of the country that helps to make the difference.
One of those who will stand out in bringing everything together is Semi Radradra, with him being tall and powerful and always a player that opponents fear coming up against, but also versatile and capable of lining up where he is needed. Bringing him into the game at every opportunity will be really important for Fiji, and creating space for him to run with the ball will almost always lead to territory being gained.
For those who have not witnessed his skill before, he provided a glimpse of his influence against England, with his passes helping to stretch the English defensive line out and create gaps for his teammates to run through, and it would not be a surprise to see him creating the same problems when the action gets underway in France.
Fiji have been drawn in a pool alongside Australia, Wales, Georgia and Portugal, and there is little doubt that they have been given a tough path to the knockout stages. However, with both Wales and Australia in abnormal form at the moment and Georgia and Portugal both reasonably beatable, the Flying Fijians will fancy their chances and will know that a good set of performances in their opening games could lead to them reaching another quarter-final stage.
On paper, it seems unlikely that this will happen, but this is a pool in which anything could happen, and it would not be a surprise to see Fiji in the knockouts at the expense of one of Wales or Australia.