‘It’s very pleasing so many of our players are with top professional clubs’: Flying Fijians coach

Flying Fijians head coach John McKee. Picture: FT FILE

SUVA, 04 JULY 2019 (RUGBY PASS) – Flying Fijian coach John McKee is confident his Fiji players will not be intimidated at a World Cup where they face Grand Slam champions Wales and two-time winners Australia in one of the toughest pools in the tournament.

The success of Fijian players in Europe, where Leone Nakarawa (Racing), Vili Mata (Edinburgh), Semi Radradra (Bordeaux) and Josua Tuisova (Toulon), have become key weapons for big-spending clubs, has changed the mentality of McKee’s squad and he will use their individual success to try and guide his squad into the quarter-finals in Japan.

McKee, who has started the squad’s pre-finals training camp in Fiji, told Fiji Village: “When you look across our playing group and you see the talents of our players, we have some very gifted athletes.

“For me, it’s very pleasing that so many of our players are with top professional clubs, particularly in Europe, and play some of the top competitions around the world.

“That experience helps when they come back to play for us because they are facing the best players in the world in the European Cup. That type of competition means they are more familiar with the opponents they are going to come up against at the World Cup.”

The Flying Fijians begin their warm-up matches against the Maori All Blacks at the ANZ Stadium in Suva on July 13 and play a return game in Rotorua that will be followed by Pacific Nations Cup games with Japan, Canada and Samoa.

After the World Rugby Series-winning Fiji Sevens squad dealt with a number of off-the-pitch problems during their campaign, McKee has made it clear to his players that they need to remain totally focussed on the job in hand.

He explained: “We can have the world-class programme, coaches and players, but if the players don’t really follow the team culture and behaviour it will automatically going to affect the team performance.

“This is a very important camp for us as we build towards the World Cup and there has been a lot of work that goes into planning the programme. Certainly, at the start for the first block and leading into the Maori All Blacks games, our big focus will be around the ruck areas.

“I can see this is going to be a critical area for performance in the World Cup. Also, our defence as it is massively important. We know we have got very good attacking players who can score tries. We equally need to have a world-class defence, so we will be putting a lot of focus on the defence from the start of our campaign.

“We need to balance the fitness side of training with improving ourselves technically around our skills and also improving ourselves tactically around the game plan and team strategy.

“In the World Cup, there will be a lot of ball-in-play time and high-speed running in matches, which is something some of our players maybe not used to. This includes those coming from professional overseas clubs.

“Our conditioning needs to be specific to the intensities required so that the players can play a full game no matter who the opposition is.”

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