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Cook Islands (population 10,900) one game away from Rugby World Cup

Led by former Leinster forward Stan Wright, the Cookies are hoping to shock the former RWC quarter finalists.

Akapusi Qera of Fiji and Stan Wright of Cook Islands with the Webb Ellis Cup.
Akapusi Qera of Fiji and Stan Wright of Cook Islands with the Webb Ellis Cup.
Image: IRB.com

THE MAJORITY OF the Cook Islands’ 10,900 [nice, round figure that] inhabitants will be tuned in to their team’s match against Fiji on Saturday afternoon. The island nation will qualify for the Rugby World Cup if they can overcome a side ranked 35 places higher than them in the world rankings.

Captained by former Leinster prop Stan Wright, ‘The Cookies’ won the right to play Fiji — two-time World Cup quarter-finalists — by defeating Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Papua New Guinea. They came close to World Cup qualification for the 1999 and 2007 events but Tonga edged them out on both occasions.

A shock victory over Fiji [ranked 11th] would see the Cook Islands qualify as Oceania 1 for next year’s World Cup in England. They would be placed in Pool A with rugby heavyweights Australia, Wales and hosts England. Wright said:

We are a small nation team yet we have so much pride with it. We are basically amateurs and we are here to play for the love of the country and the jersey we put on.”

Fijian coach John McKee has also warned his squad that Saturday’s game will be no ‘walk in the park’. McKee believes his side should prevail if they can cut down on the discipline issues that cost them in an 18-13 loss to Samoa. His comments were mirrored by winger Sireli Bobo.

Stan Wright congratulates John Hayes Stan Wright (pictured here with John Hayes in 2011) now plays in France with Narbonne. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Bobo told the IRB website, “It is 80 minutes of rugby and we will not take the Cook Islands lightly. We failed to execute our game plan last week against Samoa. We need to play as a team from the first minute. If we show individual play then it will be difficult to win.

“In this squad we have a huge number of overseas-based players and the majority play in Europe. What is the point of having such players when as a team we do not follow our game plan.”

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About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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