SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - Fiji coach John McKee has said the World Cup will be treated to plenty of the flair associated with the island nation’s rugby but this time it will be allied with a firm focus on the basics of the game.
The Flying Fijians were the last Pacific islands side to make the knockout phase at the World Cup when they upset Wales 38-34 to advance to the last eight in France in 2007.
McKee believes a rock-solid structure must be combined with their natural running game if they are to match that feat in Japan, where they have drawn Australia, Uruguay, Georgia and Wales in Pool D.
“We do need to play test match rugby but need to put the icing on the cake with some Fijian talent and flair,” the New Zealander told Reuters.
“For us it’s about finding the balance to playing test match rugby.”
Fiji have long been a global power in sevens and played some breathtaking rugby to win gold in the inaugural Olympic tournament in Brazil in 2016.
Few coaches have been able to translate that success to the more structured 15-man version of the game, however.
McKee quickly recognised when he took over as coach in 2014 that his team were being heavily penalised in the set piece against higher ranked sides.
The scrum was particularly targeted, either to milk penalties by forcing the collapse of the front or by shunting the less technically adept Fijians off the ball.
“Not being able to win that source of ball doesn’t give the team any confidence,” said McKee, who brought in fellow New Zealander Alan Muir as a specialist scrum coach.
“We have had a lot of focus in that area ... because (when) we can get good field position and win quick ball then we know we have got the players with the attacking talent to match anyone.”
The side includes the talents of inspirational captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Europe’s best player last year Leone Nakarawa and hard-running rugby league convert Semi Radradra.
The Fijians won four successive Pacific Nations Cup titles from 2015-18 and also achieved victories over tier one nations Italy and Scotland in Suva, beat France for the first time last year and pushed Ireland in a 23-20 defeat in Dublin in 2017.
“We go with high ambitions to get out of our pool and then believe that once you get into the playoffs we believe anything can happen in a one-off game,” McKee said.
“We have got the talent. We have just got to make sure that we do enough work before we hit that first match to make sure we can play to our potential.”
Fiji open their campaign against twice champions Australia in Sapporo on Saturday.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ian Ransom