KO 2.30 at Murrayfield
Saturday 10th November
Live on BBC1
Scottish rugby loves Fijians. Leone Nakarawa is arguably the best player ever to feature for Glasgow. Niko Matawalu is a Scotstoun fan favourite and his hat-trick a few days ago cemented him in 3rd place all-time among Warriors’ top try scorers (later this month he should also make his 100th appearance for the club). Over on the East coast they may not have experienced the Fijiweegie phenomenon but Bill Mata is currently setting new standards in terms of attacking work rate for Edinburgh and providing a fine example for the capital club’s young guns to aspire to.
It’s not quite the same though when that blistering array of offensive talent is arrayed against you instead of for you! Scotland fans will no doubt appreciate the sublime skill levels the Flying Fijians will bring to Murrayfield but the home support will be hoping and praying it’s all in the cause of a losing effort. As long as the dark blues come out on top then the visitors can entertain away to their hearts’ content!
This will be just the 12th match for Fiji against a Tier 1 side in the last two World Cup cycles (excluding RWCs themselves). Hopefully whatever new season structure World Rugby alight upon will provide more regular top level fixtures for Fiji and more frequent visits to the islands by the biggest teams.
Argentina – 0 games
Australia – 1
New Zealand – 0
South Africa – 0
England – 2
France – 1 (also playing them later this month)
Ireland – 1
Italy – 3 (1 of them in Fiji)
Scotland – 3 (2 of them in Fiji)
Wales – 1
Fiji Scouting Report
The hardest working man in rugby?
Since the start of the last World Cup, Leone Nakarawa has played 105 games (98 starts) for club and country. Plus the Paris 7s and Olympic 7s tournament during the spring and summer of 2016. Oh and a 7s Rugby World Cup during his off-season in 2018. Overall he’s played 7,931 minutes of 15-a-side rugby with as many as 31 games to come for Racing 92 and Fiji before the big man even gets to the RWC warm-up matches – let alone the tournament itself.
For context Leone’s erstwhile second row partner at Glasgow, Jonny Gray, has played 82 times (all starts) for 6,254 minutes across the same period. New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick has managed 73 appearances (68 starts) and 5,270 minutes. How much is too much when it comes to the workload of one of the best players in the world?
There will be tries
Fiji will almost certainly cross the whitewash at some stage. In the last 7 years only Georgia in a one-off match in Suva have held the Fijians tryless. Scotland haven’t been too parsimonious when it comes to shutting out their opposition either, only managing nil in the tries against column 5 times over that same period. Gregor Townsend’s team have to be confident enough not to allow any Fijian breakthroughs to derail their own processes – when (rather than if) the visitors notch a try there cannot be any hint of heads going down or not believing the side is good enough to overcome the setback.
Scotland themselves are on a record run in this respect – 23 consecutive matches with a try scored, which is the longest streak in the national side’s history. The capacity crowd at Murrayfield should be in for a treat.
Almost every team participating in the Autumn Tests has one eye on the World Cup for next year. Fiji are facing up to a near facsimile of their pool from the 2015 tournament. Australia, Wales and Uruguay are all there again but this time it’s Georgia instead of England.
Given that group it’s clear that toppling a Tier 1 side in a big match is the only real route to a quarter-final. Games against Scotland and France are the islanders’ last opportunities to test themselves at this level before the real action starts next September. A big scalp now would set Fiji up well for that tournament and therefore this match will be a significant target for them.
Fiji have been playing Test rugby for over 80 years but have only met Scotland 7 times before, including visits to Murrayfield in 1989, 2002 and 2009. The overall sequence of results between the two sides looks like this from a Scottish perspective:
W L W W W W L
The last time Fiji were in Edinburgh, Scotland eased to a 23-10 win with tries from Johnnie Beattie and Graeme Morrison. Phil Godman added 13 points from the tee in a game which saw the visitors with the lion’s share of possession and doing most of the running.
The most recent meeting between the two countries was in Suva during the summer of 2017:
Fiji 27 – 22 Scotland
32: defenders beaten by Fiji (Scotland managed 9). The key Fijian attacking threats were in irresistible form leading to the Scottish defence missing 1 in 4 of their tackles. Leone Nakarawa (6) and Josua Tuisova (7) were the biggest threats but don’t ignore the contribution of La Rochelle full back Kini Murimurivalu (5) who severely punished any loose kicking. Scotland will know what’s coming but even then it’s still incredibly difficult to stop them!
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant 1: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant 2: Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Mr. Brace has just a handful of previous Test matches behind him. This will be his first time refereeing Scotland but most of the players in dark blue should be very familiar with the official from PRO14 action. The Irish whistler (who is actually Welsh!) does a nice line in a 1000-yard stare once his decision is made and doesn’t tend to invite much discussion – Ryan Wilson beware!
At domestic level he tends to be quick with the cards. Given Fiji’s predilections for drawing sin bins (9 in their last 9 Tests) there’s a reasonable chance Scotland may spend a part of the match a man up. If they do then they will need to more ruthless in taking advantage than they were against Wales last weekend.
Scotland’s previous games with Mr. Brace in charge: