Editorial comment – Calling on the 16th man

Fiji Airways Flying Fijians head coach John Mckee at the drawing board with his team before their training session at Albert Park in Suva. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA/FILE

AS we count down the days to the opening of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, the hype is slowly building up around the Flying Fijians.

We are now 30 days away from our opener against the Australian Wallabies.

Still reeling from their crushing 0-36 loss to the New Zealand All Blacks at the weekend at Eden Park in New Zealand, the Wallabies will still head in as favourites against the Flying Fijians.

It was a crushing defeat that embarrassed the Wallabies.

The irony was it came in the wake of their 47-26 win over the All Blacks a week earlier in Perth.

That result still places the Wallabies above the Flying Fijians.

At least that would be the general consensus of seasoned rugby pundits.

History is supposed to stand the Wallabies in good stead as well.

Their victory on that hallowed of all Kiwi turfs in 1986, at Eden Park, to win the Bledisloe Cup, is etched in international rugby folklore.

But as training intensified in the Suva rain this week, sceptics are keeping their fingers crossed, looking to Japan of all places to ignite passion and to inspire the Flying Fijians.

Japan’s 2015 RWC campaign is the stuff of dreams.

Under Eddie Jones, the England coach now, the Japanese machine steamrolled two-time world champions South Africa.

That 34-32 victory catapulted Japanese rugby on to the pedestal reserved for the giants of the sport.

It tore at the hearts of Springboks fans.

It ranks among the biggest upsets in rugby union history.

That opening match of Pool B of the 2015 RWC was their first meeting.

Japan stunned the rugby world!

As the clock ticked towards full time, Japan skipper and backrower Michael Leitch had the option to take a kick at goal to secure a draw against the Springboks.

Jones wanted the kick.

Leitch wanted a dance with history.

When he was interviewed by CNN after that game, he said he wanted a try that would thrust Japan into the history books with the greatest upset in Rugby World Cup history.

“I’d rather go down challenging South Africa than kicking the goal, missing, and regretting it for the rest of my life,” Leitch told CNN.

The rest, as they say, is history!

The victory, Leitch explained to CNN, was no fluke: “We named our training ‘Beat the Boks’ and that’s how we trained.

“It felt like a training run. That’s no disrespect to South Africa, but we analysed the game to the point where we knew each individual’s characteristics. That gave us the advantage.”

The Pacific Nations Cup and the two Tests against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks offered five quality matches for us to work out strategies, defensive shapes and attacking options against quality live opposition.

The challenge now is how well we prepare ourselves for the Wallabies game, factoring all the lessons learnt, from recovery, intensity, player rotation to game plans.

Then there is self-belief and confidence!

The Flying Fijians need our support to prepare well for the RWC 2019.

We can be the 16th man!

Go Fiji, go.

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