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The Flying Fijians are looking to the future after selecting a youthful side dominated by locally-based players to take on the Barbarians at Twickenham this weekend.
Front-rowers Eroni Mawi and Ratu Veremalua Vugakoto, loose forward Mosese Voka and halfback Frank Lomani are the only players available from the squad that competed at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, with half the squad called up from the Fijian Drua squad that reached the semi finals of the Australian National Rugby Championship.
Sixty-one test prop Campese Ma'afu, who retired from international rugby after last month, will face off against his countrymen as part a Barbarians squad that also features three members of the World Cup winning Springboks side.
Flying Fijians coach John McKee said, with their European-based players not available for selection, this weekend's match was an opportunity for other players to test themselves on the world stage.
"I've had to look outside the core of the group that went to the World Cup but of course we have our local-based players who played in the World Cup are all with us, strengthened up with quite a strong group from the Drua campaign and many of those played in the winning Drua team last year.
"Also, a number of players out of Mitre 10 Cup teams in New Zealand - some of them experienced senior players but also some younger players coming through the ranks as well."
After four years building towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan, John McKee said this weekend's test is the first step towards the 2023 tournament in France.
"A game like this gives us an opportunity to expose some of our players, who are high on our radar but haven't played for the Flying Fijians yet, to experience the big game atmosphere; come up here and play at Twickenham, play against the big names of the Barbarians team, and just expose them to that different environment...we know they're talented but we've got to give them opportunities to play at that level."
Fiji initially hoped to include half a dozen French based players in their squad but McKee said Mesulame Kunavula ended up as the only call-up from the Northern Hemisphere.
"He was in our sevens programme and he's joined Edinburgh this year," he said.
"I was enquiring with coaching staff there about how he was going and (Director of Rugby) Richard Cockerill thought it would be really beneficial for him to get the game-time so he's one professional player from up north who's joining us but with the other players we didn't even go to the clubs.
"It's outside the [player release] window and the clubs are going to say no. We just concentrated on building a side around the players we've got here."
The Flying Fijians only previous match against the Barbarians was a 43-19 defeat in London six years ago.
McKee expected a competitive clash against the Eddie Jones-coached Baabaas.
"I think the game will suit us because the Barbarians they want to play rugby - there will be a lot of ball movement, a lot ball in play, probably less kicking than we normally see when we come to the Northern Hemisphere or we saw in some of those games in the Rugby World Cup," he said.
"But, for us, we've got to concentrate on the core elements of the game. We've got some structure around the way we play and some systems around the way we play and just to get these players up to speed on our way of playing."
Meanwhile, McKee hinted he could extend his time in charge of the Flying Fijians, having first taken on the coaching role in May 2014.
His current deal is set to expire next month but the New Zealander, who led Fiji at the last two World Cups, said he has begun discussions about continuing in the role.
"I've been talking to the board and the CEO, it's just sort of on-going there," he said.
"There's nothing sort of concrete decided yet but for me I'm just really thinking about this game this week and thinking about making sure that the preparation is the best it can be for the young players we've got coming into the squad.".
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
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