Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY for Fiji, but this was a performance which underlines just how much progress the Pacific islanders have made under John McKee — they are not far off and had they been more disciplined, or been that bit more accurate, they may just have left with a famous result.
In the end, the game slipped from their grasp in the final quarter and their head coach was left to consider what might have been.
“Despite giving a 17-3 start to this Irish team, especially playing against a well-drilled side, that’s a massive learning curve for us,” McKee said, taking the positives from the 23-20 defeat.
“The scores were getting closer and closer and we were confident of turning them over. It didn’t go our way but we’re confident of improving moving forward.
“When especially playing against northern hemisphere teams we have to work hard on our set-pieces. That was the big learning curve from that game.
“Today we managed to compete with them in the set-piece and that’s the massive difference.”
The bookmakers had offered a 25-point spread before kick off, but that was always too generous. And, to a certain degree, a little disrespectful to Fiji. They have come along way and it showed with a bold and flamboyant performance at the Aviva Stadium.
Henry Seniloli and Timoci Nagusa crossed either side of the break, with Ben Volavola slotting 10 points from the tee. There was never going to be any repeat of the 41-6, 64-17 and 44-8 defeats to which they fell on their previous visits to Dublin.
An added physical edge and set-piece nous to their traditional flair meant they pushed a new-look Ireland side all the way and could easily have come away with a famous win.
“There is some frustration,” McKee added. “I thought we probably, the game was so close, we had chances to put them under more pressure, score another try to secure the win.
“To come back from 17-3 down was a great effort, and ultimately maybe that took too much out of us at the back end of the game.
“I certainly think you can see a difference in the game when we put points on the board and put Ireland under pressure. They didn’t seem as willing to play as they were earlier in the game.”
The big thing now for Fiji is getting time together as a squad, the importance of which is underlined by the level of performance this week to last when they were well beaten by Italy.
“In terms of time together it’s what it is, it’s up to us to work the best way we can to make sure we’re fully prepared for each assembly, and that we grow from meeting to meeting.
“We do have a good block of time together in the three months before the World Cup but I’ve got to spend more time up in Europe probably, have more contact with our players between assembly. But it is what it is.”
Overall, Fiji will take huge encouragement from this and now the challenge is to find consistency in performance week-on-week.
McKee adds: “Certainly within the team I feel a lot of growth this week, our team cohesion a lot better. Part of that is actually just time together.
“This November window is actually the hardest for us because our players come straight from their clubs. You can see the improvement today, and the challenge for us going forward is to hit this level on week one.”
Canada up next, and the perfect opportunity to build again.
The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):