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Looking back to 1987 - NZ v FijiOpinion By Keith Quinn Rugby Writer
The following is the second in a series I have written from my notebooks of 24 years ago when following each game of the 1987 Rugby World Cup.
The series is designed to help New Zealanders recall the lead-up to their only Rugby World Cup win and to also get them in the mood for this year's event.
This week: New Zealand v Fiji, Lancaster Park, Christchurch, Wednesday 27 May 1987.
This was the second game for both teams at the tournament. New Zealand had come off their great 70-6 win over Italy six days earlier but Fiji too had scored a highly significant opening win; they secured the first big upset of a Rugby World Cup event.
Fiji had beaten Argentina 28-9 in Hamilton on the previous Saturday. They had dominated throughout and gave the South American team, which many considered to be fourth-best in the world, no chance. Fiji's tactics were based on all-out attack and fierce defence. Their loose forwards, including the captain Koli Rokoroi, were tireless and ruthlessly efficient.
The game had been played against an emotional and dramatic backdrop. At home in Suva a military coup d'état had taken place only 10 days before. Army Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, a former test rugby player, had taken over the country. He believed that Polynesian/Melanesian elements of his country were being overtaken by the ambitions of the rival Asian population. An Asian political party had won the recent election.
The Fijian rugby team, no doubt concerned for their loved ones at home, locked arms before their first game to sing a moving version of God Bless Fiji. Seemingly inspired, the team then roared into action on the rugby field, perhaps giving expression in a rugby sense to their feelings about their homeland situation. The Fiji team had arrived in New Zealand only after the new coup gave the tournament its blessing. Immediately after the coup the Rugby World Cup organising committee had put the Western Samoan RFU on alert to possibly send a team in Fiji's place.
The Fiji team were under tight hold in New Zealand. Before several of their games the team players were banned by management from making calls home.
In the game against Argentina at one stage Fiji led 28-3, a tremendous effort, but they did concede points late in the game. The Scottish referee, Jim Fleming, awarded a penalty try against them for a scrum collapse. At other times it was amazing to see the famed Argentine scrum pushed back repeatedly.
Argentina's famous flyhalf Hugo Porta was unable to dominate and the performance of the Pumas collapsed around him. One of his shots for goal had been a complete miss hit. It rolled alarmingly along the ground in front of him for about 20 metres.
For each team's second game the two countries involved selected their playing XV's with different agendas in mind. New Zealand wanted a hard workout for their best selection after the romp five days earlier against Italy. Therefore only two changes were made to their team. The selectors, Brian Lochore, John Hart and Alex Wyllie, seemed to already be shaping their team for tougher matches later.
Fiji, however, almost looked like they had decided to forfeit totally to New Zealand. The Fiji selection made nine changes. To be fair though, their surprise win over Argentina in Hamilton had happened only three days earlier and they had sustained several injuries in that match.
In Christchurch once the game started on a cold Wednesday afternoon in front of a modest 25,000 crowd the scoreboard reflected the quality of the two teams. The Fijians seemed only partially interested at times and the New Zealand team were soon well in command.
The All Blacks scored, via wing Craig Green, after only one minute. Thereafter points came at an average of one per minute. New Zealand led 40-3 at halftime and they eventually passed the previous test record total, which had stood only since their outing against Italy the previous Friday.
The four tries each scored by Craig Green and John Gallagher also equalled an All Black record of tries in an international that had stood for 82 years. In total the team scored 12 tries against Fiji, which when added to the 12 tries scored six days earlier made it a handy two dozen tries from two games played.
The Auckland province's representation of 10 players in the All Black team was one more than the nine who had played against Italy. One Auckland player, Grant Fox, successfully landed 10 conversions, which was also then a New Zealand test record. His final match total of 26 points also equalled the world record for scoring in one international. The New Zealand team's final score was a then world record total in a test match.
Fiji looked far from the team that had beaten Argentina. They were listless and seemed to be also badly affected by the cold. Local officials were alerted part way through the first half to organise cups of tea for the team at halftime. This was achieved with the team drinking piping hot black tea in their break ('with no milk or sugar' recalled local official Geoff Inch to me recently). The tea was carried out to the halftime huddle on trays; in large catering teapots with white china cups ('and no saucers.'). In those days teams did not leave the field in the short halftime breaks.
The second half was more of the same; regular tries for the All Blacks. It became obvious that Fiji had set their sights on winning their next match to qualify for the quarterfinals.
In the very last moment of action Fiji had their one moment in the game. They swept up field with the ball in hand and the tiring All Blacks could not stop the big lock Joji Cama from crashing over for a try. It was that moment which perhaps gave Fiji the encouragement to press on with a bigger effort in the tournament.
In their next match they beat Italy to finish second in Pool 3. They thus qualified to play France in the quarter-finals. Though they subsequently lost to the French the 1987 Rugby World Cup effort remains Fiji's best ever performance at an RWC event.
From a New Zealand point of view the win over Fiji could only be described as a satisfying romp. But they could now look forward with confidence to the next match; a Queen's Birthday Monday fixture in Wellington against Argentina.
The non-playing New Zealand captain, Andy Dalton, had been again unable to play in the Fiji game. His hamstring injury was proving slow to heal. David Kirk again captained the team and prop Steve McDowell was on stand-by to move to hooker should there be an injury to Sean Fitzpatrick.
World Cup Match No 9, Pool 3
Fiji v New Zealand
Date: Wednesday, 27 May, 1987
Ground: Lancaster Park
City: Christchurch, New Zealand
Referee: Derek Bevan (Wales)
Fulltime score: New Zealand 74 Fiji 13
Halftime score: New Zealand 40 Fiji 3
New Zealand: Tries by C Green (4), J Gallagher (4), J Kirwan, D Kirk, A Whetton, penalty try; 10 conversions and 2 penalties by G Fox.
Fiji: Try by J Cama; 3 penalties by S Koroduadua.
New Zealand Squad: John Gallagher (Wellington), John Kirwan (Auckland), Joe Stanley (Auckland), Craig Green (Canterbury), Warwick Taylor (Canterbury),Grant Fox (Auckland), David Kirk(Auckland), Wayne Shelford (North Harbour), Michael Jones (Auckland), Albert Anderson (Canterbury), Gary Whetton (Auckland), Alan Whetton (Auckland), John Drake (Auckland), Sean Fitzpatrick (Auckland) and Steve McDowell (Auckland).
Richard Loe (Waikato)
Mark Brooke-Cowden (Auckland)
Andy Earl (Canterbury)
Kieran Crowley (Taranaki)
Frano Botica (North Harbour)
Bruce Deans (Canterbury)
Fiji Squad: Severo Koroduadua (Suva), Tomasi Cama (Suva), Sirilo Lovokuru (Suva), Serupepeli Tuvula (Queensland; Jone Kubu (Riwa), Elia Rokowailoa (Army), Paulo Nawalu (Suva); Koli Rakoroi (Suva), Samuela Vunivalu (Suva), Joji Cama (Police), Ilaitia Savai (Nadroga), Livai Kididromo (Suva); Peni Volavola (Nadi), Epeli Rakai (Suva) and Mosese Taga (Suva)
Salacieli Naiviliwasa (Suva)
Sairusi Naituku (Rewa)
Manasa Qoro (Nadi)
Kavekini Nalaga (Nadroga)
Tom Mitchell (Army)
Epineri Naituku (Nasinu)
There were no replacements for either side during the game.
Next week: Game three at the 1987 Rugby World Cup for the All Blacks; New Zealand v Argentina in Wellington
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