THINK of Fiji. Depending on which end of the cultural spectrum you inhabit, the image will be either blue sea and palm trees or rugby. The former brings tourists flocking in; the latter sends Fijians round the world to showcase their unique skills.
So perhaps it should not be so much of a surprise that one of the attractions for the Scots as they arrived in Suva, the capital of Fiji, for their match on Saturday, is the chance to meet old and firm friends.
It will affect the Glasgow Warriors players more, mainly because the contacts for them are Niko Matawalu and Leone Nakarawa, players who came to Scotland, settled. Though they left, they still see it as a spiritual home.
“They both say the team members are their brothers. I think the two of them actually mean it,” reflected Josh Strauss, the No.8 who is about to make his own journey away from Glasgow to Manchester.
“They love Glasgow and were cut up when they had to leave. Both come to watch our games, Niko [Matawalu], because he is closer, drives up to watch them and goes out with boys after games.”
Nakarawa, who is at Racing 92 in Paris is possibly even more at home in his adopted city – there have been rumours over the last few months that he is finding life hard in France and would love a deal to go back.
The club itself and the way the Fijian pair were welcomed in plays a large part in that; nobody could hear the kind of crowd adulation that these two rugby magicians did and not soak it all in. On top of that, it was Glasgow that made them.
Matawalu was playing local rugby in Fiji before he played against Scotland five years ago and impressed so much that he was offered a deal; Nakarawa was in the Fijian army and playing a bit of Sevens when he was spotted. In both cases, it was Glasgow that made them international sportsmen.
It was their own talent, though, that allowed them to take advantage of the chance, their uniquely Fijian skillset and a more structured, disciplined, European style of play at Glasgow proved a devastating combination.
“I just hope they are not on form,” Strauss jokes ahead of Saturday’s meeting. “Anyone who has seen Nakarawa play asks me, ‘did you play with Nakarawa’. He is amazing.”
If you recall the glory days of those two, add the ball-carrying and silky offloads from Viliame Mata, who is currently at Edinburgh though yet to develop the same cult following, and then add another 12 equally outrageously talented ball handlers and you have the challenge that Scotland are going to be facing.
“I guess it will be pretty tough,” said Strauss. “Their structure is not the same as any other team you play. Their coaches will have a structure in place; it’s just the team as individuals don’t stick with it.
“Playing with Niko [Matawalu], that was his thing and that is what made him good, that’s what makes them all good.
“It will be tough to analyse them. You never know what they are going to do. They are the sort of team that, if they are up on the day, you have a big game on your hands. We have to bring structure to the game and execute it well. Do that and we will do well.
“In defence you want to slow it down and get our great players on the ball. You don’t want to give them quick ball. On attack you want to test their fitness. We don’t want to run into walls of big men. We want to fracture them a bit.”
Which is not to say it won’t be fun. No team plays with as much pure joy as Fiji, which is bound to rub off on the other side.
“Growing up as someone who loves rugby I always loved watching them play. They play exciting rugby and have big hitters in their team,” Strauss acknowledged.
“Playing against them you hope they don’t hit you too hard – we have to make sure we get the defensive side of our game right.
“It will be a once in a lifetime experience for me this weekend, playing against a full Fijian team. Individually they have players all over the world, in Britain and Europe; they are amazing.”
Do not run away with the idea that Scotland are anything other than favourites, though. It is 19 years since their one and only defeat to Fiji – a badly planned and mis-timed trip back in 1998. Not even the Fijian public expect their team to win against a side that is coming straight off beating Australia in Sydney.
“With a team like Fiji, if they turn up on the day, they can give anybody a game,” was Strauss’s cautionary warning. Complacency is the main foe, and it is not nearly as friendly or welcoming as Fiji’s Glasgow Warriors.
Source : HeraldScotland