Fiji’s World Cup campaign started and ended with defeats in exhilarating contests against tier one nations, and while they have a wound that will take time to heal, coach Simon Raiwalui is confident there is more to come from the Pacific islanders.
Sunday’s 30-24 quarter-final loss to England in Marseille was Fiji’s third defeat in five games at the tournament in France, and yet there is a genuine belief that this team will kick on ahead of the next World Cup in Australia in 2027.
“For 15 weeks these boys have worked hard and we will celebrate that,” Raiwalui said. “We’re hurting now but I couldn’t be prouder of this group in terms of what they’ve put in.
“They’ve built something for the next generation of Fijian rugby players. They’ve laid a foundation.”
Fiji’s opening 32-26 loss to Wales showed glimpses of their potential, but also the chaotic nature of their game at times that lacks structure and devolves into a free-spirited rugby Sevens style that the country is so famous for.
A superb 22-15 win over Australia and gutsy 17-12 victory against Georgia put them on course for the knockout stages, and they got the point they needed to advance in a surprise 24-23 loss to Portugal.
Against England they rallied from 14 points down to draw level going into the final 10 minutes, but lacked the street-smarts to gain victory.
“What a fantastic team they are,” England coach Steve Borthwick said. “They have had a brilliant World Cup. A team jam packed full of world class players.
“Full of pace and the way they scored those back-to-back tries was in a way not too many teams in the world can.”
Their progress has been obvious, helped by the entry of Fijian Drua into Super Rugby, with 17 of their 33-man squad in France coming from that team.
Their danger with ball in hand is ever-present, but what they will want to tidy up in the coming years is the set-piece and breakdown, where they struggled against top-tier opposition.
“We’re hurting at the moment and it will hurt for a long time because it was something we had built and we thought we could go further. The belief in the team has always been there. I’m bursting with pride,” Raiwalui said.
“The pride’s never gone away, it’s there from the beginning until the day I die. These boys are family. Pride doesn’t disappear.”