Fiji in camp ahead of crucial mid-year tests
SUVA, Fiji (AP) — The Fiji rugby squad moved into camp on Wednesday to being preparations for June test matches against Australia, Italy and Scotland and for more important assignments in July which will decide whether it qualifies automatically for the 2019 World Cup.
Fiji first plays World Cup finalist Australia in Melbourne on June 10 and its buildup to that match has been boosted by the arrival in Suva of several overseas-based players including Vereniki Goneva, Nikola Matawalu, Napolioni Dawai, Viliame Mata, Sikeli Nabou, Campese Ma'afu, Tevita Cavubati, Jale Vatubua, Benito Masilevu, Peni Ravai and Dominiko Waqaniburotu.
After the clash with the Wallabies — a squad featuring a host of Fiji-born players — Fiji will host Italy in Suva on June 17 and Scotland on June 24. But more important matches lie ahead when it competes with Samoa and Tonga in the July 1-15 Pacific Nations Cup.
The top two teams at the end of the tournament will qualify automatically from Oceania for the Rugby World Cup in Japan. The third-place team retains a chance to qualify through a home-and-away playoff against a European qualifier.
Fiji's Australian-born coach John McKee told a news conference Wednesday that the Pacific Nations Cup matches loomed large over the coming the season and "our very clear goal is Rugby World Cup qualification."
"Over this campaign, in the first little bloc, we have Australia, Italy and Scotland; three very different teams and three different challenges," McKee said. "Initially we're spending our time in camp getting our gameplan and getting our team combinations."
The first three tests offer opportunities to fine-tune for July.
"We've seen from the World Cup pool draw that it's imperative we finish in the No. 1 position to give ourselves the very best chance in 2019," McKee said. "We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We really want to concentrate on building our team, building our performance and ensuring that we're playing at the standard we should and we win that qualification."