With the Pro14, Top 14 and Premiership all over for another season, thoughts are turning towards the World Cup and who represent their countries in Japan. A few weeks back, Fiji head coach John McKee selected his training squad to prepare for the tournament, starting with the Pacific Nations Cup.
Having had the chance to look at the training squad and some of Fiji’s other recent squads, I chose to make them my next squad prediction. This was without a doubt my hardest so far, as I realised that while I recognised a lot of names in some positions (especially the back line) there were other positions like the front row where I initially recognised just 2 names! To be clear, this is not a matter of picking the 31 I would take, but rather who I think John McKee will take, so I have tried to avoid any biases I have towards any specific players.
Journey to RWC2019 series:
- Predicting the Wales squad
- Predicting the Scotland squad
- Predicting the Italy squad
- Predicting the Ireland squad
So without further ado, I think that Fiji will select…
Fiji selected 4 props in 2011 (when squads were only 30 men) and 5 in 2015. As they selected 6 props in the most recent Autumn Internationals, I have decided to go for the average number: 5. Campese Ma’afu and Manasa Saulo have recently been the starters in the bigger matches so became my first selections here, with Eroni Mawi and Kalivati Tawake backing them up. My 5ᵗʰ and final prop selected is Peni Ravai, who also gives some additional cover at hooker.
Despite the selection of Ravai, I still expect 3 specialist hookers to be selected. Sam Matavesi and Mesulame Dolokoto are the main two here judging by recent matches. Perhaps this is one time that I have picked with heart over head, but I think that Sunia Koto will take the final hooker position and appear at his 4ᵗʰ World Cup.
Leone Nakarawa is one of the best locks in the game so will clearly be selected. Tevita Cavubati and Api Ratuniyarawa have also been regulars in the 23 over the last year so will bake the list, with Albert Tuisue taking the 4ᵗʰ and final second row spot.
Viliame Mata has had a starring role with Edinburgh and has also been a regular starter in Fiji’s recent big matches so will surely travel, along with other regulars Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Peceli Yato. Semi Kunatani ended the season strongly at Harlequins so makes the list and the final back row spot goes to Nemani Nagusa who will make the squad despite Newcastle’s poor season.
Scrum half is one of the positions where I think John McKee and I think very differently. Personally, I would select Nikola Matawalu as one of 3 scrum halves due to his experience with Glasgow and his ability to also play on the wing. However he has not played for the Flying Fijians since November 2017 and I doubt that will change this close to the tournament. For that reason, I believe McKee will go for just 2 specialist scrum halves, in the form of Frank Lomani and Henri Senioli.
Finn Russell’s backup at Racing 92, Ben Volavala is the clear pick here, while Alivereti Veitokani has been his favoured replacement in recent Test windows in part de to Josh Matavesi’s injuries, so will go as the second fly half.
Centre was a position I found very interesting to pick due to the options available. Semi Radradra has emerged as one of the stars since converting from league, while Jale Vatubua has also been a regular in recent matches so will keep his space in the squad. Levani Botia is a wrecking ball and makes the squad even without his ability to also cover back row, while I also pick Vereniki Goneva as a 13 who can also cover wing rather than specifically as a winger.
This leaves 6 spots on the plane for players in the back 3 and boy was it hard to narrow down, even with the retirement of Nemani Nadolo. Filipo Nakosi is (at time of writing) still uncapped but has been in try-scoring form for Toulon so will surely make the squad, alongside more regular starters Metuisela Talebula, Setareki Tuicuvu and Josua Tuisova. Kini Murimurivalu brings experience to the back 3 and Eroni Sau takes the final spot for me as he may be lacking caps at this level but has a wealth of experience from his time with Fiji 7s.
So those are my picks for Fiji’s 31-man World Cup squad, who do you think makes the list?