September 22, 2019 / 4:04 AM / a month ago

Rugby-Fiji need to battle fatigue, injury to get campaign back on track

SAPPORO, Japan, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Fiji will need to overcome fatigue and travel to beat Uruguay and get their Rugby World Cup campaign back on track after a disappointing loss to Australia, coach John McKee said.

Fiji had looked on course for one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history on Saturday as they held a nine-point second half lead against Australia before the Wallabies tightened up and won the Pool D clash 39-21 in Sapporo.

To make matters worse, the Pacific islanders also lost rampaging loose forward Peceli Yato to concussion for the Uruguay match in Kamaishi.

Yato was felled in a controversial tackle by Wallabies winger Reece Hodge, who appeared to make contact with the flanker’s head in a no-arms tackle in about the 26th minute.

The Clermont player had been instrumental in Fiji’s blistering start with a try and several surging runs, but failed his head injury assessment (HIA) and did not return.

While the Fijians protested the tackle during the game, match officials deemed there was no foul play, although social media users and pundits have criticised it.

Yato’s fellow loose forward Viliame Mata was also an injury concern for the Sept. 25 meeting against Uruguay, McKee said.

“With a short turnaround, Peceli can’t be right for the next game because it is a six-day turnaround for an HIA,” McKee said, referring to the protocol regarding return to play after a head injury. “On Viliame, we will just have to look how he responds in next 24 hours.”

McKee had set his team the target of becoming the first Pacific islands side to make the knockout phases since the 2007 tournament and after the loss to Australia, winning the Uruguay match was now crucial to those plans.

“It’s a dangerous match for us,” he said.

“The boys will be pretty tired. We’ve got some travel (on Sunday) and on Monday we’ll be focusing on that Wednesday game, it’s a very critical game for us.”

While McKee was pleased with his side’s start against the Wallabies, he recognised there were some technical issues to sort out in the scrum, where they were dominated by Australia’s pack, and in their discipline.

Fiji conceded 12 penalties — the majority in the second half — and had inside centre Levani Botia yellow carded after referee Ben O’Keeffe ran out of patience following a run of infringements.

“You don’t win test matches by playing well for 60 minutes,” McKee said. “To win these big games we need to have a good start and we achieved that but couldn’t finish it out. We have three games to go and are right in this competition.” (Editing by Sam Holmes)

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