SW Londoner’s top five ‘Flying Fijians’ to watch in England’s Rugby World Cup 2015 opener

In rugby lexicon, Fiji and flair are synonymous.

England’s opponents this evening come from an island with a population under one million, about two-thirds that of south west London, which boasts some of the game’s most outrageously talented players.

In the 2013–2014 season, Fijians topped the scoring charts in the English Premiership, France’s Top 14 and Super Rugby.

Although England are yet to lose to Fiji in five internationals, Welsh fans know all too well the dangers they present, having been knocked out by the Pacific Islanders’ during the group stage in 2007, while Scotland and France were ravaged by Fijian winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca in 2003.

Historically though the Flying Fijians have been restricted to flashes of brilliance, their natural ability undermined by disorganisation and a player drain to more developed rugby nations.

Their fortunes however look to be on the up and Jonah Lomu, who is well versed in denting English World Cup hopes, has warned England against underestimating the Pacific Islanders.

They are settled under Kiwi coach John McKee – they beat arch-rivals Samoa for the first time in five attempts to lift the Pacific Nations Cup in August and their sights are now set on England.

With kick off just hours away, here are our ones to watch out for as England gets their quest for the Web Ellis Cup underway at Twickenham.

1. Vereniki Goneva

England scrum-half Ben Youngs has heaped praise on his Leicester Tigers teammate and like many of the Fijians he is as likely to send you flying as fly around you.

Although he looked a little less potent in an out-of-sorts Tigers team this season, he was the Premiership’s top try scorer in 2014.

The 16-stone outside centre will undoubtedly put Jonathan Joseph’s defensive credentials to the test in what is likely to be a key battle in determining the game’s outcome.

2. Nemani Nadolo

At almost 20 stone and 6ft 5″, Nadolo is a giant winger who can run 100 metres in under 11 seconds.

He bagged nine kicks from nine in a 47–19 victory against Canada last weekend and outweighs his opposite number this evening Antony Watson by five stone.

Top try scorer in Super Rugby this season, the Fijian juggernaut has the potential to be a Twickenham showstopper.

3. Akapusi Qera

The former Gloucester backrower, now Fiji captain, was a virtual shoe-in for man-of-the-match during his pomp with the West Country outfit.

Perhaps dimmed with age, Qera remains abrasive at the breakdown, destructive in open play and brings an immense knowledge of English rugby which will be crucial to Fiji’s chances in tonight’s clash.

4. Nikola Matawalu

Mercurial Bath-bound scrum half Matawalu is a real livewire and anyone who watched Glasgow Warriors march to the Pro12 title this season will be well aware of his innate qualities.

Devilishly quick with a sharp eye for a break, he has been a driving force behind Fiji’s recent success.

He scored a try against Samoa in the Pacific Nations Cup and two more in the first half against Canada last weekend. When he fires, so do his country.

5. Leone Nakarawa

In Glasgow’s Pro12 final in June, Nakarawa was far and away the standout player, with the full array of his remarkable skillset on display.

Delicate football passes, exceptional skills and power in the tackle – the Glasgow second-row has it all.

Nakarawa’s offloads make Sonny Bill-Williams seem like a schoolboy in comparison, but he combines his natural flair with genuine steel in the scrum and lineout, a dimension which Fijian sides in days gone-by have certainly lacked.

Kick off at Twickenham is at 8pm, and with game breakers on both sides, expect a match high on both quality and entertainment.

Image courtesy of 7 News via YouTube, with thanks

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