NADA, Fiji — The starting members of Japan’s first Pacific Nations Cup game against Fiji were picked on a hot day of training under the Fijian sun at Price Charles Rugby Ground in Nadi.
The game will be an important test match for both teams. As Japan and Fiji are in the same pool at the World Cup later this year, the game will be a good chance for both teams to measure up each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
“Despite the hot weather, the preparations are going well for Japan,” Japan coach John Kirwan said. “We had some injuries after the Classic All Black games, but the team has shown considerable growth.
“At the moment, we concentrate on our forwards’ skills. We expect a very physical game this Saturday.”
The team’s new forwards coach, Chris Gibbs, freshly flown in to Fiji from the Waikato Rugby Academy in Hamilton, New Zealand, is also satisfied with what he saw on his first few days on the job.
“The team has very high quality forwards, and they are keen to work hard,” Gibbs said. “Fiji plays a fast style of rugby similar to Japan, so we have to make sure to do things quickly and be fast-paced at the lineouts.”
Team Japan was picked from a reduced 30 members, with Takuro Miuchi as captain at No. 8, Eiji Ando at No. 10 and Goshi Tachikawa at full back. Takamichi Sasaki will be starting up at No. 7, as the more experienced Hare Makiri suffered a calf injury during practice.
Meanwhile, on the other part of the island, the Fiji national team was getting ready at the Sigatoka’s Lawanga rugby ground, facing its own difficulties.
“We are going to play with a junior local team,” said Alifereti Doviverata, captain at No. 6.
“Twelve of our main players are still overseas at their club teams in England and France, five of our starting members just earned their first caps against Samoa last Saturday. Nonetheless, it is a good opportunity for the local players to show their potential.
“Everybody wants to go to the World Cup, so this will be an exciting game both for us and for Japan.”
Played on home ground, the Fijian team has a clear advantage with the climate conditions as well as with the support of its enthusiastic local fans. While Japanese rugby stadiums are politely quiet during home test games, in Fiji, where rugby is a national pastime, passionate supporters will expect their team to win no matter what.
Fiji also has the advantage of several of its coaching staff and players, including captain Doviverata, having played for Japanese club teams at different levels.
Fiji’s newly appointed head coach, Ilivasi Tabua, himself played for Kobe-based World Fighting Bull for two seasons in the late 1990s, having the chance to play against John Kirwan in one training match when Kirwan was playing winger for Chiba-based NEC.
Asked whether World Fighting Bull won against Kirwan’s club at that time, Ilivasi answered with a silent shy nod, Fijian style.