Nemani Nadolo, Fiji's hulking talisman, has been in jaw-dropping form for the Crusaders and could pose some huge problems for the more fancied nations in Pool A

According to common consensus among early newspaper reports, the iceberg that submerged the Titanic in 1912 was between 50 and 100 feet high and 200 to 400 feet high.

Now, Nemani Nadolo is not quite as vast as the entity that sunk the ‘unsinkable’ ship. Even so, he could prove devastating to a major nation during the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

From the moment the draw for Pool A was made in December 2012, both hosts England and Warren Gatland’s Wales have known they face an excruciatingly tough schedule just to avoid the embarrassment of a group-stage exit.

Australia, two-time winners of the tournament, join the Six Nations duo. The likes of Israel Folau, Michael Hooper and David Pocock mean the Wallabies are loaded with exceptional players.

Then, a year ago, Fiji hammered the Cook Islands to qualify as well. Pacific Islanders are famed for freakish individual talent and Nadolo – a rapid, skilful specimen who weighs nigh on 130 kilograms – is doing ludicrous things for the Crusaders.

Here is how his attacking ability could hurt Fiji’s more illustrious opponents.

Finishing

While the Crusader’s have endured a fairly underwhelming campaign, Nadolo is currently sitting on seven tries from 12 appearances. Some of his scores have been spectacular too.

This one instigated a 57-14 thrashing of South African strugglers the Cheetahs:

Nadolo_chip_score

Part of the Crusaders’ problem has been their overly-lateral phase-play. Far too often they have shifted the ball to the flanks without threatening the gain-line.

In this case, left wing Nadolo has minimal space to exploit. Still, the finish requires a stunning piece of skill.

Taking a pass from Ryan Crotty, the transfer onto his left foot is almost instant. Opposite number Clayton Blommetijies is beaten for pace. He has committed his weight forward, but would concede a penalty for a tackle without the ball if he continued into contact:

Grubber

Though the ball heads infield, the natural curve from Nadolo’s instep sends it back towards the touchline. Neither hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld nor No.8 Jean Cook can intervene:

Collect

Last weekend in Auckland, the Blues were dispatched 34-11. However, emboldened by Eden Park as usual, Joh Kirwan’s team had built up a 6-0 advantage. Then Dan Carter gambled:

Nadolo_crosser

Before this decisive phase, the Crusaders probed across the Blues line. A burly carry from Richie McCaw took a narrow tack close to the breakdown and crossed the 22.

When the ball is recycled and scrum-half Mitchell Drummond shapes to pass, we can see Nadolo hugging the left touchline. Holding his width, he makes full use of the playing area and offers an option to Carter, who glances across to assess things:

Hugging

The fly-half’s kick has a higher trajectory than most modern implementations of this tactic, resembling a rugby league-style crossfield bomb – something Folau used to feast on in the NRL with Melbourne Storm.

Interestingly, as the ball goes up, Carter’s casual body language suggests he is not anticipating a try. That said, Nadolo chases like a train as Blues wide man Ben Lam turns:

Lammy

Nadolo commits wholeheartedly to the jump and is rewarded. He sticks out a big left arm…

Nemani_grab

…and gathers the rebound. Nadolo’s baggy shorts and heavy strapping give him the look of an NBA superstar at times. This acrobatic take backed up that image.

Collisions and offloads

As the aforementioned tries demonstrate, Nadolo is far from an unguided missile. Instead, he complements his size with intelligence and guile.

This carry comes from first phase off the back of a scrum. Five Highlanders are tied in due to a combination of sheer power and evasive footwork – unbalanced defenders obviously do not have a strong base from which to make a tackle – and Jordan Taufua can pick up and shunt over to score around the fringes:

Nadolo_bulldozer

Earlier in the same game, which the Crusaders actually lost 25-20, Nadolo had manufactured another five-pointer.

Flanker Matt Todd dotted down this time:

Nadolo_try_for_todd

Colin Slade break puts the Highlanders on the back foot, but when Nadolo catches the ball he is met by Waisake Naholo and Nasi Manu, with All Black full-back Ben Smith covering. He bypasses all three.

Stepping off his left foot back against the grain between Naholo and Manu, he ties them both in:

Steppy

Shooting his left arm past the Highlanders duo, Nadolo twists into a pass not dissimilar to a tennis backhand:

Flipper

A closer replay does the assist justice:

Nadolo_offload

Support runners can swarm Nadolo in the knowledge that the Fijian will almost always get his arms free to create an opening.

Sprinting down his favourite channel against the hapless Reds, he find Andy Ellis with an 10-metre overhead:

Nadolo_inside

Then, a fortnight ago in Wellington, this effort through midfield sparked the Crusaders’ best performance and a 35-18 triumph over runaway league leaders the Hurricanes:

Nadolo_Todd_Canes

After Ardie Savea and Victor Vito are brushed aside, Todd is again the beneficiary. He receives a flying flick-pass:

Nadolo-SUPERMAN

Viewing the try from a reverse angle gives a good idea of how difficult Nadolo is to contain:

Nadolo_Todd_Canes_two

Naturally, the more havoc one man can wreak in the contact area, the harder a defence must work to contain them. Unfortunately for those attempting to quell Nadolo’s influence, he can also pick passes before the tackle.

Link man

The Crusaders’ home tie against the Blues in April brought a 29-15 success. Nadolo was the catalyst for their most penetrative attacks. This outside arc led to Drummond’s run in:

Outside_arc

Jonathan Joseph has spent this past season doing just this for Bath and England. As Akira Ioane speeds out of the line, Nadolo stands him up. When his opponent is flat-footed, he accelerates to the outside shoulder:

Outty

With Ioane beaten, George Moala must step in. This is Nadolo’s cue to feed Crotty, who swerves infield to play in Drummond:

MOALA

A quarter of an hour later, another deft pass put Taufua clear:

taufua_try

Again, Nadolo calmly assesses the situation. Slade’s pass has put him in a lot of room and he senses that covering defenders are speeding across.

Stepping inside, he draws them towards him. Taufua has a walk-in:

Taufy_in

On national service, Nadolo is understandably handed heightened responsibility.

Centre of attention

Thursday, October 1 is the day Fiji take on Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Nadolo has happy memories on the venue.

Wearing the 12 shirt last November, he scored all of his country’s points as they got within four points of Wales despite spending the final half an hour with 14 men.

His interception score was as much about courageous anticipation as it was defensive positioning.  Nadolo cuts off Rhys Priestland‘s outlets before pouncing onto the pass:

Nadolo_intercept

Just to complete the inventory, Nadolo is a decent tactical kicker. From centre he should touch the ball far more and Fiji will look to him for field position.

Oh, and he takes the shots at goal. And he can nail them from the right touchline…

Nadolo_conversion

…or the left:

Nadolo_conversion_two

Put simply, Pool A favourites will get a horrible shock should they underestimate Fiji. Gifted Glasgow Warriors Leone Nakawara and Niko Matawalu, Leicester Tigers Seremaia Bai and Vereniki Goneva, plus stardust from Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Napolioni Nalaga add up to a perilous, unpredictable proposition.

Then you have talisman Nadolo, six feet and five inches of all-action obstacle all on his own. England and Wales will need to negotiate him carefully.

  • Patrick Saunders

    Charlie,

    The Fiji pack was much
    improved and provided a better platform than expected. Even so, Fiji lost to England, Australia and
    Wales. Wales won despite being severely disrupted by injury and disadvantaged by a much shorter turn-around than Fiji. Wales were never behind on the scoreboard. Despite being visibly exhausted, Wales limited Fiji to just one try and stopped Fiji from scoring for the last 30 minutes of the match.

    Contrary to this article, Nadolo blew hot and cold. He wasn’t the deciding factor in any of the games that he played. Moments of magic were balanced by moments of mediocrity. A good game against England, a mixed game against Australia which included at least one incident of poor discipline, banned against Wales, and disinterested and error-strewn against Uruguay apart from one bullying, try-scoring, run against an extremely tired defence. He remains a talented player but he didn’t wreck anyone’s World Cup.

    I was quite tough on you when you originally posted this article. I wrote “For your article to have more credibility, it needs to show how Fiji
    (not the Crusaders) will generate good ball and how they will attempt to
    utilise it to give players like Nadolo an opportunity to do damage. You
    need to measure Fiji’s likely patterns of play against the attacking
    and defensive structures [of opposing teams]”. I see that you subsequently did this in one of the broadsheets in the World Cup build-up. Your analysis now seems to include team strategy and tactics rather than focus on individuals. I much prefer it – even with talented individual players, context is king. I believe that it’s important to give credit where it’s due especially when you’ve been as vocal with criticism as I have been. So good work. And all the best.

  • Patrick Saunders

    Hi Akuila. I remembered this discussion so thought I’d drop by to say how much I enjoyed watching Fiji play during the World Cup. I was expecting them to play good attacking rugby but I wasn’t expecting their tight work to be anywhere near as strong as it was. I think that Fiji might well have gone through if they were in another pool. All the best for the future.

  • faizal

    The team that played Wales last autumn was just together for a week but the team that will be at the world cup has been together for over two months and played 5 tests together thrashing Samoa in the PNC final. Fiji will take the under dogs tag and we dont promise to beat the tier 1 nations who have big budgets and alot more better training facilities. But we will give them a run for their money thats our promise. Every team in the world nows to beat Fiji just dominate the packs. But when Fiji takes the field expect big hits, hard runs, pace and fijian flair, marvelous handling skills. Expect to see the steps that only Fijians can pull off expect champagne rugby thats what we promise at this years world cup.

  • BigDaddy

    2007 bro, 2007…

  • BigDaddy

    “Fiji lost against Wales last autumn cause one of our players thought he was love child of Christian Cullen and Rupeni Caucau”.

    Too funny.

  • BigDaddy

    Well guess what… They just picked up Ludeke, two time Super Rugby winning coach for the Bulls, & he is renowned for his forward orientated & structured game plan. I mean, it’s not like Fiji lack physicality & pure athleticism if they fire up.

    So I wouldn’t write off Fiji just yet, especially against Wales, have you forgotten 2007 already or just wiped it from your memory?

  • Boyd Crowder

    I thought the article was just pointing out how good he’s been playing, not a look at the 15 on 15 matchup. He could wreck the World Cup, he could also be limited and defended successfully. Either way, if he was Welsh he would walk into the starting line-up.

  • Patrick Saunders

    Hi Sam,

    I’m not quite sure what your comment is trying to say. Can you explain?

    Fixtures were announced quite a long time ago. Wales play Uruguay first. How does this ‘ruin the tournament’?

  • Sam

    Any team that plays Wales will ruin the tournament for the Welsh. It’s just a question of who they play first.

  • Akuila Yabaki

    Patrick thanks for the reply we will see you all at the RWC

  • Patrick Saunders

    Wales or England won’t be trying to play sevens against Fiji. England and Wales will play to their strengths as they’re perfectly entitled to do. They are both well coached teams that will set out to exploit the weaknesses of their opposition.

  • Patrick Saunders

    From a Welsh perspective, my understanding was that Wales deliberately focused on conditioning work rather than skills or tactics during the early part of the Autumn internationals and they accepted that there would be an impact on the field. Wales’ performance increased as the training load eased off towards the end of Autumn series where they put in a creditable performance against New Zealand before beating South Africa. This is the Wales that will turn up for the World Cup. Of course, Fiji will be different too.

  • Patrick Saunders

    Akuila,

    I’m actually a big fan of Fijian rugby which has some great individual players particularly in the backs (incidentally, lock Nakarawa at Glasgow has been excellent this season too). Unfortunately, I think that teams that rely on a running threat need more than 20-30% of possession particularly against teams toward the top of the IRB rankings. Teams that win with 30% of possession generally tend to be teams that play a highly structured game, choosing to kick the ball wisely and then using aggressive defence. This is the opposite of Fiji whose best chance of winning will depend on enough ball to impose a fast-paced and loosely structured game based on off-loading to keep the ball alive. It is possible that it might happen, but if you’re a betting man, you would bet on the other teams stopping this by breaking up the flow of the game, slowing it down and imposing structure with their 70% of possession. I’m expecting a lot of mauling against Fiji.

    I think that the real hindrance for Fiji is that they aren’t able to prepare for the competition in the same way as some of the other teams. They don’t have the sort of access to players that allows good preparation and they don’t have the money to throw at facilities. For example, Josh Matavesi will be paying his own airfare to get to the training camp in Fiji and doesn’t expect anything like the sort of training regime that his Osprey’s team-mates will get with Wales. Add in Fiji’s exclusion from regular high quality competitions such as the Rugby Championship and it is clear that Fiji goes into the World Cup severely disadvantaged. Until Fiji finds some way to gain parity off-field, it will be very difficult for them to make the most of their best players when they are on the field. This hits the forwards particularly hard because they depend on good conditioning and the development of technical and unit skills under pressure, preferably in game scenarios. World Rugby (the IRB) really needs to find a way of addressing this.

    Nevertheless, I do hope that Fiji will find some way to push England, Wales and Australia and if there are a few moments of genius along the way, then I’ll applaud them as much as the next rugby supporter.

  • Warcomet

    Fiji lost against Wales last autumn cause one of our players thought he was love child of Christian Cullen and Rupeni Caucau and decided to be a one man army which cost Fiji possession in the dying minutes..and the game….Fiji didn’t lose as a team..we lost because one player thought he was BIGGER than the game ..

  • Akuila Yabaki

    Fiji knows it will not win a lot of good ball. Wales and England will have to be flawless in their set-piece and forward play to stop us getting any good ball. With 20-30% good ball and our ability to move the ball from anywhere and with natural finishers across the park even amongst our forwards i believe we’d be ready to create some upsets. Underdogs on your home turf, we love it.

  • Akuila Yabaki

    We hope that the English and Welsh come with the same frame in mind. We love tournaments especially world cups. We tend to punch above our weight and with the IRB sevens title in the bag we’ll raring to go come RWC.

  • Patrick Saunders

    Charlie,

    1) The World Cup isn’t like an Autumn International match. The preparation and approach of both teams will be completely different. It is bizarre to pretend that there’s a direct parallel that allows you to simply carry results forward. It’s a fantasy which shows no respect to a coaching team that has won Grand Slams, Six Nation Championships, got to the semi-final of the last World Cup, won European Cups, The Aviva Premiership, and steered the Lions to victory in Australia. Of course Wales will be better prepared – they’re spending most of the summer in training camps. It won’t be the 66-0 victory over Fiji of the last World Cup but it ought to be comfortable.

    2) On the question of narrative, I think I’ve made my point and you’ve done nothing to persuade me otherwise. I’ve just looked at your profile and noticed that you’re described as a ‘London-based’ freelance rugby writer and that almost all of your work centers on English clubs and players. Perhaps you could broaden your experience by getting out a bit more to combat the insularity which that must bring. No opinion exists in a vacuum and our thinking is always influenced by our context whether we realise it or not.

    3) Are you going to address any of the other points I’ve raised?

  • Charlie Morgan

    Patrick, 17-13 was the score last time Wales played Fiji. This is what I’m referring to. I’m not sure that’s so bizarre.

    As for a “narrative” or an agenda, you’re always likely to “pick up on” one if you’re searching for it in the first place.

  • Patrick Saunders

    Charlie,

    On your article:
    You’ve written an opinion piece where you’ve presented selected examples of play by a single player and used that to paint the picture that you would like to see. At the same time, you’ve ignored fundamental considerations that don’t support your argument. You’ve finished by giving the article a sensationalist headline (‘wreck the World Cup’ – really?!). This has been presented as ‘analysis’.

    Most people who watch rugby already know that Nadolo is a good player offensively at Super XV level. But rugby is a team game where structure and organisation is currently more important than individual brilliance. For your article to have more credibility, it needs to show how Fiji (not the Crusaders) will generate good ball and how they will attempt to utilise it to give players like Nadolo an opportunity to do damage. You need to measure Fiji’s likely patterns of play against the attacking and defensive structures of Wales and England before drawing your conclusions. For example, how will Fiji manage against a strong set-piece approach that England might use? Or, if Fiji select Nadolo on the wing, how will the Fijian backs beat the aggressive Welsh defensive line speed to get the ball to him? There are lots of questions like this and they suggest that Nadolo’s impact will be minimised and results will probably go to form with England, Wales and Australia all beating Fiji. Unfortunately, Fiji hardly have a level playing field when it comes to preparing for a World Cup.

    On your response:
    Lot’s of assumptions, opinions and subjective interpretation there. You imagine that Wales are dependent on bonus points (why?) and
    that they only win 17-13 (bizarrely) and because of this there’s no party
    (presumably, allowing your team to party instead because they’ve done better). You chose to predict that the Wales game plan will go out of the window. You then disagree with the referee and accuse Jamie Roberts of foul play rather than praising the excellent angle that he runs which draws in both opposition centers before he displays good hands to pop the ball up to Priestland just before contact to make space for the try. You’ve then chosen to favourably compare Nadolo’s defensive stats with
    the Wales outside centre rather than his opposite number. As for the
    facts, both Roberts and Williams beat more players and made more
    offloads than Nadolo but this is conveniently omitted.

    It’s clear that you’re emotionally invested in Wales struggling against Fiji. That’s fine. I support my team too. We all do. But if you’re praying for the opposition to fail and it seeps into your writing, don’t be surprised if your readers pick up on that.

  • Charlie Morgan

    Thanks for both reading and commenting,
    Patrick.

    I don’t doubt that the Fiji pack will struggle to compete with those of Wales and England. However, to take the November game you refer to as a starting point, Wales failed to capitalise on massive forward ascendancy. Nadolo’s try came with 50-odd seconds remaining, so they still needed to hold out for a few phases. They managed it
    (very nervily), but a 17-13 win would actually be extremely damaging to their
    RWC chances — no bonus point, no party. Besides anything else, I don’t share
    your faith that Wales will be able to resist being drawn into an expansive game
    with emotions running so high. For the entire week prior to the autumn Test
    they spoke of the dangers of doing so, yet were comprehensively sucked in. But
    that is a hypothetical.

    As for the facts, Nadolo was taken out by Jamie Roberts off the ball in the build up to Wales’ first try (you’ll see it on the highlights as Rhys Priestland loops him). Throughout the remainder of the game, he made nine tackles and missed two. By comparison, Scott Williams made six and missed three.

    I think it’s fair to say he will be treated with huge respect by the coaching teams of England, Wales and Australia as a significant attacking threat.

  • Patrick Saunders

    No, Nadolo probably won’t ‘wreck the World Cup’ for England and Wales.

    Crucially, the Fijian pack will not be strong enough. This means that the potentially exciting Fijian backs will have no platform. The most interesting thing about the autumn match against Wales was that the Fijians failed to keep 15 men on the field because they had to resort to technical infringements to counter the Welsh rolling maul which wasn’t seen as a particular strength at the time. The first yellow card was for illegal entry; the second was for attacking the line-out jumper so that the maul could not be set. There were plenty of other infringements too. That needs to be the starting point for any prediction. The only way that England or Wales will lose to Fiji is if they get their tactics wrong and try to play too expansively which is quite unlikely given the respective coaching teams.

    Nice puff piece, by the way. I notice that you’ve included Nadolo’s 78th minute interception against Wales in a match that was already over but chose to exclude the first Welsh try where Nadolo was sat down by Jamie Roberts before good Welsh back play cut Fiji to shreds. Surely not a happy memory for Nadolo. But I suppose that simply doesn’t fit your narrative, does it?