SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - Fiji enter their Rugby World Cup opener against Australia on Saturday with arguably their greatest depth of talent and better prepared than any other in the Pacific islands nation’s history, according to coach John McKee.
The Pool D clash at the Sapporo Dome that kicks off at 1:45 p.m. (0445 GMT) should also set the tone for the rest of their tournament, the New Zealander said, with clashes against Uruguay, Georgia and Six Nations champions Wales to follow.
While the Wallabies have not lost to Fiji since 1954 and have won 18 of the 22 tests they two sides have played, the Australians have looked vulnerable at times over the last four years, especially in 2018 when they won just four games.
They also have switched off mentally during matches, something that a Fijian side that includes attacking threats in Semi Radradra and inspirational forwards Leone Nakawara and Dominikio Waqaniburotu, could exploit.
“It would give us a great boost if we are able to get a win (against the Wallabies),” McKee told Reuters before the tournament of their hopes to qualify for the knockout phases.
“But we have taken the view that we are in a series of four games and the top two teams go through.
“It doesn’t ride on one game. There could be a lot of twists and turns in the pool.”
McKee named virtually his strongest possible lineup, although sprung a small surprise with former rugby league international Semi Radradra selected on the wing after having played all of his previous six tests at centre.
While Fiji are targeting the quarter-finals, the Wallabies have been placed under added pressure after they were reminded by Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle that anything short of making the final would be considered a failure by fans.
“You should know me well enough by now that there is not much pressure. I love what I do,” Australia coach Michael Cheika, who guided the side to an unexpected run to the final in 2015, said on Thursday.
“I am prepared to take responsibility and accountability for everything I do, always have been.
“And wherever the cards fall I will be proud of my team.”
Cheika could not have been prouder than when they produced arguably their best performance in his tenure with a record-breaking victory over the All Blacks in Perth last month.
Their inconsistency, however, resurfaced when they were blown off Eden Park by an angry New Zealand side a week later that allowed the All Blacks to retain the Bledisloe Cup.
Cheika decided experience would be vital to regain that consistency in naming his side to face Fiji, with David Pocock and Michael Hooper reunited in the loose forwards and Nic White and Christian Lealiifano in the inside backs.
“They (White and Lealiifano) showed enough to us about their composure and ability to adapt on the run, which I think will be big in this game,” he said.
Editing by David Evans