Fiji confident they can rise to England challenge

Fiji coach John John McKee

Fiji coach John McKee says that they can “rise to the challenge”
of facing England at home in the Rugby World Cup opener at at Twickenham even
though the odds are against them.

For several members of the Fiji team, Friday’s fixture will be the first time
they’ve played at Twickenham, where the bulk of an expected capacity crowd of
more than 82,000 will be cheering for England.

“We know there is a massive challenge ahead of us and we can rise to the
challenge,” McKee told a press conference on Thursday.

“The real pressure is on England and, for us, it’s everything to gain
through our performance.”

While England will hope to make the most of the fervour of home support, McKee
said the enduring importance of rugby union to countries in the Pacific had
to be seen to be believed.

“Rugby is more than a passion, it’s a way of life for the Pacific
countries — Fiji, Tonga, Samoa.

“For the people back home, they are mad about rugby and the World Cup
is the pinnacle.

“In Fiji, everyone is glued to TVs in the cities. In the villages maybe
they have got together and got one TV and a generator and a satellite dish to
pick up TV.

“At 7:00am in Fiji the streets will be quiet, the population will be watching
the game. In Fiji, it’s a game that can literally stop a nation as the nation
will stop.”

Meanwhile Fiji captain Akapusi Qera, who played in England for Premiership
club Gloucester, was looking forward to leading his country out at Twickenham.

“We have been talking about that from the start,” said Qera, now
with French side Montpellier.

“The boys are aware of what an iconic stadium it is. It’s an honour for
us to be starting the tournament in this stadium tomorrow,” the flanker
added.

Fiji find themselves in one of the most difficult of all World Cup groups,
with two-time champions Australia and Wales — a team the Pacific Islanders
knocked out of the 2007 World Cup — also battling for one of the two quarter-final
spots on offer from Pool A.

Although best known for their expertise in sevens rugby, Fiji have been steadily
improving their 15-a-side game and McKee believes they can pose problems for
England.

“We have had a good look at England over a number of competitions now
and we recognise that they are a very good side across the board,” he said.

“Maybe there are some chinks in their armour. We will keep that up our
sleeves and see if things come off for us tomorrow (Friday),” the New Zealander
added.

“The Fiji squad have got a unique profile of playing. We have got a lot
of strong players, very quick players, but they are also very powerful, good
ball-handlers.

“We need to play to those strengths in our game but also, in international
rugby, around the set piece, having a good field position and a kicking game
are essential parts of the game.”

“We hope we have got it right and can play both games.”

Inevitably, much of the talk concerning Pool A has centred on the fact that
at least one of rugby’s established nations — England, Australia and Wales
— will be knocked out in the first round.

McKee though did not think such comments were disrespectful to his side.

“It’s good for us to be out of the limelight, but I don’t think any of
these teams will underestimate us.

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