Fiji coach John McKee expects his side to “rise to the challenge” of facing England in Friday’s World Cup opener at Twickenham even though the odds appear stacked against the Pacific Islanders.
For several members of the Fiji team, Friday’s fixture will be the first time they’ve played at Twickenham, where the bulk of an expected capacity crowd of more than 82,000 will be cheering for England.
“We know there is a massive challenge ahead of us and we can rise to the challenge,” McKee told a press conference on Thursday.
“The real pressure is on England and, for us, it’s everything to gain through our performance.”
While England will hope to make the most of the fervour of home support, McKee said the enduring importance of rugby union to countries in the Pacific had to be seen to be believed.
“Rugby is more than a passion, it’s a way of life for the Pacific countries – Fiji, Tonga, Samoa.
“For the people back home, they are mad about rugby and the World Cup is the pinnacle.
“In Fiji, everyone is glued to TVs in the cities. In the villages maybe they have got together and got one TV and a generator and a satellite dish to pick up TV.
“At 7am in Fiji the streets will be quiet, the population will be watching the game. In Fiji, it’s a game that can literally stop a nation as the nation will stop.”
Meanwhile Fiji captain Akapusi Qera, who played in England for Premiership club Gloucester, was looking forward to leading his country out at Twickenham.
“We have been talking about that from the start,” said Qera, now with French side Montpellier.
“The boys are aware of what an iconic stadium it is. It’s an honour for us to be starting the tournament in this stadium tomorrow,” the flanker added.
Fiji find themselves in one of the most difficult of all World Cup groups, with two-time champions Australia and Wales – a team the Pacific Islanders knocked out of the 2007 World Cup – also battling for one of the two quarter-final spots on offer from Pool A.
Although best known for their expertise in sevens rugby, Fiji have been steadily improving their 15-a-side game and McKee believes they can pose problems for England.
“We have had a good look at England over a number of competitions now and we recognise that they are a very good side across the board,” he said.
“Maybe there are some chinks in their armour. We will keep that up our sleeves and see if things come off for us tomorrow (Friday),” the New Zealander added.