After the demolition of the South African challenge, Ireland reset focus to face Fiji at the now sold out Aviva Stadium this weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick previews Ireland’s next opponents.
Fiji have played seven internationals this calendar year. The calendar year saw a 37-14 loss to Australia in Melbourne but the side then bounced back and beat both Scotland and Italy in tight encounters.
The Pacific Nations Cup took place in July and Fiji beat Samoa comprehensively before defeating Tonga 14-10. Italy exacted some revenge for that summer loss with a hard fought 19-10 win at Catania.
Decent form but the lack of international games for Fiji and for the rest of the Pacific Island nations are doing little for the development of these squads.
Ireland have to be careful this weekend when to go expansive. Fiji love the open field, slick offloading in the tackle and quick ruck ball are paramount to their game plan. Leone Nakarawa ticks all these boxes and much more.
The Racing 92 second row is a sublime player. Physicality yet finesse. Set piece effiency with speed of thought and an offloading game which is a manual in how to play the game.
Akapusi Qera is a legend for the national side. The flanker has had a distinguished international and club career playing for the likes of Gloucester, Toulouse, Montpelier and now Agen. His physicality, tackle count and breakdown skills will look to win turnover ball for his side to unleash fast counter attacks.
Vereniki Goneva should see some game time this weekend and his threat out wide will need to be quelled by Ireland. His powerful initial burst of pace is hard to stop and his try count for club and country is excellent. Another distinguished player who has played with several English club teams with distinction.
What to expect from Fiji this weekend?
It all depends on the weather in Dublin this Saturday. Dry track conditions will mean that Fiji will be able to showcase their undoubted running and offload game to full effect.
The Italian game saw flashes of brilliance from Fiji with some potential decisive line breaks only to be quelled by poor ball handling or discipline.
Nakarawa’s try was superbly executed; all down to the mercurial second row whose running line from thirty meters proved too good for the Italian defense.
The Italians did provide evidence of areas to exploit in the pack exchanges; defensively the fringes were a source of easy gain line yards for Conor O’Shea’s side.
Furthermore, a better side would have punished Fiji in the red zone on several occasions. Several excellent scoring opportunities presented themselves for the Azzuri only for ponderous game management or lack of incisive running lines to kill any momentum.
Expect a Fiji side who will look to attack from deep; the kicking game from Ireland needs to be on point this weekend as failure to do so will allow Fiji’s primary ball carrier to gain excellent field position.
Fiji ultimately I suspect will be exposed on the set piece; question marks on the defensive setup for mauls. Their defensive shape was very tight against Italy and one would presume that Ireland would be better at expanding field position when required.
This is an international which will hopefully create plenty of try scoring opportunities. The chance to see the likes of Leone Nakarawa in the flesh, offloading with three Ireland players on his case will be a joy to watch. Roll on Saturday!