JWC- Potential All-Pacific meeting
Fiji defeated Italy 20-14 in the final round of Pool C matches on Saturday ensuring they would remain in Osaka for the ninth to 12th place playoffs, and while Scotland, Argentina and Tonga were moving camps, the Pacific islanders spent some time relaxing and visiting the Osaka castle.
The result also meant Fiji guaranteed themselves a spot at next year’s Junior World Championship in Argentina, which will be reduced from 16 to 12 teams, and their head coach Osea Umuumulovo was pleased to give his players a well deserved break.
“The players have had a lot of training and mental preparations, so I want them to relax. Changing the environment will be good for them before the preparation for the match against Scotland,” said Umuumulovo.
Competing against South Africa and France, two of the title contenders in the Championship, was no easy task for Fiji, but these matches have given Umuumulovo some ideas on how they should develop their young players in the future.
Despite putting in some spirited performances against South Africa and France, they lost against teams whose squads are packed with professional players and Umuumulovo believes his side can also gain a lot from the Championship.
“Some of the boys are still in school,” explained Umuumulovo. “They come only for a few days to do training camps then go back to their own school. We did 10 weeks of training before this tournament. We think our preparation was right because we scored three tries against a team like France, whose players earn money for playing rugby.
“This tournament was a very good experience for us. From the team members, some will play in this competition next year in Argentina and some will play in the World Cup in 2011 or 2015.
“So if we put them in a professional environment, give them professional training and expose them to the highest level in this type of top level competition, these boys are able to perform. With more budget and a good environment, we can train these boys into a standard to compete against other rivals.”
Potential All-Pacific meeting
Fiji's next opponent in the tournament is Scotland at the Kintetsu Hanazono Stadium on Wednesday and with Tonga also competing in the ninth to 12th place playoffs, there is potential for an all-Pacific meeting on the final day.
“Scotland have some big boys, but the Under 21 team beat them so we have a positive feeling against them. As for Tonga, we know their strengths and weaknesses. If we play against them, it will be a Pacific derby,” said Umuumulovo.
Tonga were beaten by last year’s semi finalists Wales and 2009 semi finalists Australia in Pool D, before going on to beat Canada to also qualify for the Junior World Championship 2010 and head coach John Edwards is already looking ahead to that with the possibility of fielding the Under 20 side in the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup as Fiji did this year.
“The rugby game suits the mentality and physical strength of Tonga. The potential is there, we just need to be developed. Some boys play only four or five games a season but it is not enough for development,” said Edwards.
As with Fiji, they too would love to meet their fellow Pacific islanders in the ninth place playoff. Both sides will definitely improve on their 2008 position and there could be an added incentive for the Fijians as they were beaten by Tonga 28-20 in the 13th place playoff as well as losing to them in the Oceania Under 19 tournament.
“In last year’s Under 19 [Oceania] tournament we won the trophy by beating Fiji in the final. This year, for sure, they want to beat us for revenge. They are good friends. I know some boys from that competition. It could be an interesting match for both of us.”