A full-strength Flying Fijians side has been named to take on Georgia in their penultimate pool match at the Rugby World Cup in Osaka on Thursday.
Just four players have been retained from the starting line-up that suffered a shock 30-27 defeat by Uruguay last week, with prop Manasa Saulo joined by captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Leone Nakarawa and Semi Radradra, who have started all three games.
“This match against Georgia was always going to be a key match in this pool and nothing has changed,” said head coach John McKee.
“There is plenty at stake in this game as a top three finish in our pool means automatic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023.”
“We know Georgia’s strengths and are prepared for a battle around the set pieces and the breakdown,” he said.
Dominiko Waqaniburotu said Fiji have put the “pain” of the previous match behind them and are determined to bounce back with a strong performance.
“We’re keeping our heads up after the result of the last match and there’s just excitement for the team to finish these two games on a high and that’s what the boys are focused on now. We’ve got some boys back from injury and that’s a really big boost for the team,” Waganiburotu said.
Former sevens star Semi Kunatani has been declared fit to make his World Cup debut on the openside flank, while coach John McKee also welcomes back Peceli Yato, who gets the nod over Viliame Mata at number eight after missing the Uruguay game with concussion.
“Peceli has been a big loss for us. In that game against the Wallabies he was in outstanding form and at the time he got injured was probably one of the best players on the park at that time. He was a big loss to us but he’s progressed through his return-to-play protocols very well and he’s trained fully with the team today so he’s really ready to go,” said John McKee.
After a quick turnaround between their first two games, McKee said it’s been good to spend some extended time on the training paddock.
“There was a lot of disappointment following our game in Kamaishi. We certainly didn’t get the result we were seeking there but the players have, to me, bounced back strongly and we’ve really trained and it’s been good for this game to have a full cycle, an eight-day turnaround, give us time to regroup and actually have a full weeks training leading into this game, so our preparation has been good,” McKee said.
Georgia were thumped 43-14 by Wales in their tournament opener before bouncing back with a comfortable 33-7 win over Uruguay on Sunday.
The Flying Fijians have beaten the Lelos (Georgia) twice in three previous meetings, including a 22 point win in Suva last year.