THE Fiji Warriors suffered a major blow yesterday when four players failed to board the flight to Australia ahead of the opening Pacific Rugby Cup match against the Junior Waratahs in Sydney tomorrow evening.
Three of the players were denied visas to travel to Australia and New Zealand because of their ties with the military while one suffered an eleventh hour injury.
Fiji rugby head coach Inoke Male looked a frustrated man at the Nadi airport as he tried to arrange for replacements.
Male said Aminio Nakicobula, Ron Katonivere and Lea Matayavusa were denied visas while Mosese Taga was injured.
He said replacement for these players would be sourced from abroad.
"The preparations were good but we have been let down by the visa problems," Male said.
"Just because their family is in the military the players have been denied a chance to showcase their talent overseas. Despite the setbacks the players are looking forward to the first game against the Junior Warathas."
"We are taking a young side. It is a development team. We are looking to the future. This team is being groomed for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. We are taking under-23 players to develop them for the future Flying Fijians."
The Fiji Warriors won the PRC last year. The side topped both the core teams cumulative section and the Pacific Island conference.
Last year, Fiji defeated the Junior Waratahs 30-15. Male said this year's tournament would be tougher.
"We experienced it last year playing against the development Super Rugby teams is always difficult," Male said.
"Those teams contain players who will step up into the Super Rugby level. It will be a tough battle for our young players against the overseas oppositions."
"The boys have been sacrificing their time. They know that through the sacrifice the door will open for them in years to come."
"It is a good chance to show their talents and may be secure contracts. We will be contacting players in Australia and New Zealand to fill in the void. They are players who are in our extended squad."
"The target is to retain the trophy. We will try our best."