KOBE (Reuters) - Fiji’s World Cup campaign has yet to get off the ground after defeats to Australia and Uruguay in their opening Pool D matches and while Georgia might once have seemed like the ideal bounce-back game the Europeans now present a very real threat.
Few gave the Fijians much chance of putting one over on the Wallabies in Sapporo but they were fully expected to beat ‘minnows’ Uruguay, who only four years ago had fielded a largely amateur squad at the World Cup in England.
But a 30-27 defeat to the South Americans on Wednesday has left Fiji needing victory over Georgia to not only maintain their slim hopes of escaping the group but, perhaps more realistically, of finishing third behind Wales and Australia.
“There is a lot at stake in the game on Thursday and, looking at other results, that may have a bearing on the final pool placings,” said fullback Kini Murimurivalu.
“But it’s not only the playoffs. Finishing third in the pool is also important because it gives us automatic qualification for the next World Cup.”
The game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Osaka prefecture will feature a clash of styles, the Fijians looking to move the ball quickly through the hands while Georgia’s hulking carriers seek to crash through contact at every opportunity.
The return of Peceli Yato will lift the Fijians. The flying flanker missed the Uruguay game due to concussion after being felled by Australia wing Reece Hodge in their opener in Sapporo.
“Peceli has been a massive loss for us,” said coach John McKee. “He was in outstanding form against the Wallabies, and at the time he got injured was probably one of the best players on the park.”
Georgia were flattened by Wales in their group opener but unlike the Fijians they had little trouble in dealing with Uruguay, scoring a 33-7 bonus-point victory that leaves them just a point behind the second-placed Wallabies.
Their forwards-focused gameplan has helped them become competitive on rugby’s biggest stage and they are unlikely to deviate from that on Thursday.
The plan may be the same but the personnel will be different.
Coach Milton Haig has made 11 changes for the game, bringing back some of his more experienced players and handing the returning Merab Sharikadze the captain’s armband.
“They are not full of surprises, how they play the game is how they’ve always played the game,” Haig said of Fiji. “They’ll look to run the ball, I’m absolutely certain of that.
“We’ve done our homework and hopefully we can match everything they give us, and then some.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty