Fiji coach McKee: It's time for players to seize the moment
OITA, Japan (AP) — Fiji head coach John McKee wants his players to understand all that's at stake in Wednesday's Rugby World Cup Pool D match against Wales.
All eyes back home in rugby-mad Fiji will be on the game at Oita Stadium, where Fiji plays its last group game and must beat the Six Nations champion to maintain its very small chance of reaching the quarterfinals.
"They've got to realize that the things that they do set an example for future generations," McKee said. "These boys are very proud of representing their country and they really want to put in a performance that makes the whole nation proud."
Before the Flying Fijian backs can torment Wales with their electrifying running game and inspirational off-loading, there's a big battle up front to be won.
There was significant improvement in Fiji's scrum play in the 45-10 win against Georgia, which is just as well considering what the Fijian forwards will be facing.
"We take some good momentum out of the Georgia game but know we have to step up against Wales, who are a much tougher prospect than Georgia," McKee said. "We have got some very good backrowers, and whichever way we play them it is a very strong back row."
No. 8 Viliame Mata has fully recovered from the calf strain he picked up in the 39-21 defeat to Australia, and which reduced him to about 20 minutes against Georgia because the medical staff were cautiously managing his recovery.
"He gets his opportunity in the starting group and we will be looking to Peceli Yato to have a big impact off the bench," said McKee, who expects captain and flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu to set the standard to follow in the same way veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones does for his Wales teammates.
"Dominiko is certainly a player who leads from the front and is highly respected among the group," McKee said. "For our players, when Dominiko is out there, he gives them a real lift because he is such a high workrate player. He often doesn't get the same accolades as some of our other players, who get involved in the more dynamic parts of the game."
McKee tips the breakdown contest as "one of the closest battles" and a potentially vital factor in deciding the outcome of the game. If the Welsh take the sting out of Fiji's momentum, then that's a large part of their job done.
"Wales certainly look to attack the ball on the carriers and either try to win turnovers or slow the ball up," McKee said. "That is going to be a critical area for us, firstly to make sure we get good continuity and that secondly we are effective enough to get quick ball. We are going to have to work much harder for scoring opportunities against Wales. They are such a good defensive side."
Not bad in attack, either, as Wales showed when beating two-time champion Australia by 29-25.
Fiji's defense can accept a barrage from all directions, heights and angles against the Grand Slam winner, which needs a win to reach the quarterfinals.
"We expect Wales will put a lot of high balls into the air and use big players like George North to try to gain advantage there. It's not only about the kicking game but it is also about what happens after that, and around the ball carriers and ruck areas," McKee said. "We saw in the Six Nations their ability to play multiphase rugby and score tries on the back of 15-plus phases before they create an opportunity."
Fiji's players have been expertly briefed with all the explanations they need, so now it's down to them to perform or they'll definitely be on the plane home.