2022 Ireland vs Fiji

Autumn Nations Series: Can Fiji's Vern Cotter Continue Forward Momentum?

Autumn Nations Series: Can Fiji's Vern Cotter Continue Forward Momentum?

There are few greater spectacles than the Flying Fijians in full flight, but if their recent form is anything to go by, Fiji will have some work to do.

Oct 27, 2022 by Mariette Adams
Autumn Nations Series: Can Fiji's Vern Cotter Continue Forward Momentum?

There are few greater spectacles in rugby than the Flying Fijians in full flight, but if their recent form is anything to go by, Fiji is likely to fall well short in its two tests against Scotland and Ireland in the upcoming international window. 

Fijian rugby in general, and the national test team in particular, still have a long way to go in the midst of the longstanding and ongoing turmoil in the boardroom among its administrators. 

Open up any search engine, and with a few strokes of the keyboard, the harrowing accounts of the controversies and financial struggles plaguing Fijian rugby reveal themselves. 

But in spite of the roller-coaster journey of recent times, the test team has made great strides since the appointment of Vern Cotter as head coach in 2020.


While inconsistency and ill-discipline still are two of the Islanders' biggest problems, they've proven they can pose an attacking threat to any nation.  

Here's a look at what to expect from Fiji, as FloRugby previews the teams in this year's Autumn Nations Series. All matches are being streamed live on FloRugby. 

Current Form Spells Trouble

As stated above, there is no greater sight than Fiji in full flow. To a man, they have outrageous handling skills and have backs the size of forwards who can move faster than should be humanly possible. 

But unlike their countrymen in the abbreviated form of the game, who've been setting the seven circuits alight, the Fijian test side has slumped to a number of inglorious defeats. 

In an ideal world, the Fijians would claim the scalp of one of the two Six Nations sides they are scheduled to face, but the reality is not even victory in their fixture against the French Barbarians is a foregone conclusion.

Fiji won one of three matches in the Pacific Nations Cup in July, losing 23-20 to Samoa and 32-18 to Australia A. They claimed a comprehensive 36-0 victory over Tonga, scoring five tries in the process, but considering how the Sea Eagles have waned as a rugby nation - they are 16th in the World Rugby rankings, below Georgia, Italy and Spain - it's not a result to be boastful about. 

Therefore, despite all their promise, individual talent and the modicum of improvement under Cotter, this Pacific Nations campaign best illustrated that it's still collectively where Fiji is found wanting.

Fiji's set pieces - especially the scrum and lineout - have improved beyond sight, though discipline and defense remain areas of concern. Against a Scottish side on the rise and an Irish outfit eyeing the No.1 spot in the rankings, those weaknesses will be exploited ad nauseam.

For all their attacking prowess and their label as rugby's great entertainers, it's difficult to see beyond Fiji producing just a few magic moments. 

Three Rookies, Three Veterans And A Talisman

Cotter has made a few bold selections, explicitly stating choices were based solely on form and not reputation. Case in point being the omission of hard-running back Joshua Tuisova and talisman Ben Volavola. 

Injuries also played a part in who made the squad, with Seta Tamanivalu, Meli Derenalagi, Vilive Miramira, and Kitione Salawa all unavailable due to knocks. 

In the past, Fiji relied heavily on Volavola to marshal their attack, so his absence requires a huge adaptation to the team's game plan. 

Though replacement fly-half Teti Tela is of the same age as his predecessor, he is vastly inexperienced in comparison. Volavola has chalked up 42 test caps, Tela has played internationally just once. It will be interesting to see how Cotter plans to use Tela and how opposing teams will approach the fly-half channel with him there. 

The team was given a big boost with the return of veterans Viliame Mata, Leeroy Atalifo and Semi Radradra, who sat out the Pacific Nations Cup due to injuries. The trio was missed big time during the campaign, and having them back will add a different dynamic to the team. 

On the other end of the spectrum, uncapped players, center Sireli Maqala (Bayonne), lock Leone Rotuisolia and prop Livai Natave (both Fiji Drua), have been rewarded with maiden call-ups onto the squad and are in line to make their respective debuts. 

Playing The Long Game 

While Fiji undoubtedly will relish the opportunity to play against two top nations, it would be best if the team adjusted the expectations of what it wants out of this tour accordingly.

The tests against Scotland and Ireland could be used as framework on the way forward, as they build toward the Rugby World Cup 2023 and as reference of what they ought to expect in their crunch Pool C encounters against Australia and Wales at the showpiece in France. 

The clash against the French Barbarians is what Cotter and company should be targeting for a win to round off their inconsistent 2022 season on a high and head into the World Cup year riding a wave of confidence.