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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Nadolo commits wholeheartedly to the jump and is rewarded. He sticks out a big left arm…
…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:
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:
A 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:
Shooting his left arm past the Highlanders duo, Nadolo twists into a pass not dissimilar to a tennis backhand:
A closer replay does the assist justice:
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:
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:
After Ardie Savea and Victor Vito are brushed aside, Todd is again the beneficiary. He receives a flying flick-pass:
Viewing the try from a reverse angle gives a good idea of how difficult Nadolo is to contain:
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.
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:
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:
With Ioane beaten, George Moala must step in. This is Nadolo’s cue to feed Crotty, who swerves infield to play in Drummond:
A quarter of an hour later, another deft pass put Taufua clear:
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:
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:
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…
…or the left:
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.