The exciting pair from the Fijian Drua team announced their grand arrival, writes Ali Stokes
Two stars emerge as Flying Fijians run ten past Uruguay
At Hartpury University last weekend, a strong contingent of both local and travelling Fijian supporters were treated to a 59-point victory over Rugby World Cup Pool D rivals Uruguay, with the Flying Fijians running in ten scores. It was here that two new fans favourites emerged too: Alivereti Veitokani and Eroni Sau.
Unperturbed by the distinctly non-Fijian weather, the throng of players’ friends and family sang and danced to their nation’s traditional music heard blasting through the PA system while those two led the tenth-ranked team in the world to victory over a side they’ll next meet in Kamaishi, Japan, on 25 September.
It may have been an odd experience for those not in attendance, seeing international stars Leone Nakarawa, Josua Tuisova, Vereniki Goneva, Peceli Yato and many more fans favourites taking to the field in Hartpury. However, John McKee’s men seemed right at home, basking in a more relaxed atmosphere than, say, the grandiose setting of a Twickenham match day.
The game itself proffered no shortage of customary Fijian brilliance, with Nakarawa setting up two tries with overhead offloads worthy of a military supply drop in the first-half, while starting fly-half, Ben Volavola, broke clean through the Uruguayan defence to twice set up scores down the South American’s left flank.
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Yet, for all the sublime rugby on show from headline names, two newcomers to the Pacific Island side drew the greatest attention and excitement from those very much tapped into the ins and outs of the Fijian team, including former Fiji Seven Olympic Gold winning head coach, Ben Ryan.
Fly-half ‘Freddie’ Veitokani and wing ‘Sledgehammer’ Sau were the men to stamp their own particular brand of South Pacific fineness on the Gloucestershire turf. The promising pairing built upon eye-catching campaigns for the Fijian Drua in Australia’s National Rugby Championship this year, having helped guide the only non-Aussie team in the competition to a maiden title earlier this year.
The first of the in-form Drua duo presented himself as a possible answer to the long-standing question mark over the Fijian ten jersey, while the latter excited fans with a display reminiscent of European star Tuisova.
Not since the culmination of Nicky Little’s 15-year international career in 2011 have Fiji truly found themselves settled at fly-half. Despite the fact their group of islands are full to brimming with the most naturally talented rugby players on the planet, the Pacific nation have been on a seven-year hunt for their next great ten to guide their carnival ship.
On Saturday, Veitokani, earned his fifth cap in the 54th minute arriving from the bench to relinquish the playmaking reigns from Volavola, who subsequently moved to fullback to tremendous effect. Described as ‘mesmerising’ following his performances for the Drua in the NRC, Freddie was deft with the boot and a constant hazard for Uruguay on the game line. He was able to pull in defenders and release the last-second pass to unleash strike runners in an almost Danny Cipriani-esque performance.
Following his weekend’s exploits, Freddie is on a trajectory that could well see him playing the role of conductor in Fiji’s (literally) all-singing, all-dancing backline throughout the World Cup, with the potential to combine with Volavola at fullback in a dual-playmaking recipe of substantial prospect.
Casting an eye over the touchlines of the Hartpury first-team pitch on Saturday, a man we may well see Freddie and Volavola unleashing upon unsuspecting World Cup defences next September is debutant winger Sau, The Sledgehammer.
After blowing Uruguay out of the water in the first-half with five tries heavily featuring Volavola, Goneva and Nakarawa, Fiji struggled to maintain their pace in the third quarter, with Uruguay coming out of the blocks with an abrasively ambitious, if slightly inaccurate, edge. It took Sau’s 53rd minute score to break his side’s 19-minute dry spell. He stormed in for his third score of the day from 50-metres out, kick-starting a second extended period of Fijian dominance and eventual 68-7 scoreline.
We are used to seeing Tuisova unleash havoc, but it was the stocky Sau making a distinct impression on his international debut, claiming a hat-trick before the hour mark and imposing double trouble alongside Toulon’s powerpack Tuisova.
Having benefitted from the chance to run in a confidence-boosting victory over Uruguay after a disheartening defeat at Murrayfield two weeks ago, Veitokani and Sau could be in line for their biggest challenge to date this Saturday in the shape of the French national side.
The fixture poses a great challenge, but what a pleasant conundrum coach McKee faces in deciding how to utilise this dynamic duo.
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