By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 28/10/13
Fiji and Ireland will face off in a do or die Group A clash at Spotland Stadium in Rochdale.
Pooled with heavyweights Australia and England, Ireland and Fiji know whoever wins this game between them will more than likely go through to the quarter-finals. Lose and it’s all over after the group stage.
So both teams will be fired up and Rochdale is the location for this match, which almost feels like a Fijian home game.
The north-west English town has gotten behind the Fijians because of a link from the past, when two Fijian players signed for the Rochdale club in 1961. Rochdale became a second home for Fijian footballers and migrants after that, and the special bond between Rochdale and Fiji remains strong today. Ireland will have to combat a partisan crowd as well as the Pacific Islanders on Monday night.
The intimate Spotland Stadium is expected to be a sellout for this match and the whole town has gotten into the feel and ambience of the World Cup. Rochdale hosting the Fijian team will surely give them a big boost. To celebrate the tournament local pub The Flying Horse Hotel is serving a traditional Fijian menu on the day of the game and the nearby Mayfield Rugby Club is staging a Fiji Day celebration the day before the game match.
It will be more like Suva or Nadi then Greater Manchester.
Fiji were one of the surprised packets of the 2008 tournament and they are out to entertain again. Casting a look across their squad and you can see they have the talent to virtually beat anyone.
Captained by the legendary Petero Civoniceva, they have NRL stars across the squad with Akila Uate, the three Sims brothers, Kevin Naiqama and Sisa Waqa. This a team with flair and pace, one to score tries and entertain fans. They will fling the ball about and not die wondering.
Ireland have a tough task.
Coached by grand-final winning Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston, the Irish played Fiji in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup five years ago. In 2008 the Bati emerged victorious 30-14 and it will be a tall order for Ireland to reverse that scoreline and conquer the Fijians this time round.
Key players for Aston’s side will be West Tigers-bound winger Pat Richards, who will provide experience and lethal goal-kicking, along with Raider Brett White and Sea Eagle James Hasson.
Ireland are relying on a number of fringe Super League and English Championship players for the core of their side, and they have a big ask in combating the flamboyance and freakish natural talents of the Fijians.
With the flyers that Fijian has in its ranks and a huge crowd behind them, I can’t see them losing this one. With a good preparation completed, including a comprehensive win over Rochdale, Fiji should secure a 12 point win. They will be playing in familiar surroundings and among friendly folk, and will have to too much firepower for the team from the Emerald Isle.
Ireland: Dave Allen, Luke Ambler. Bob Beswick, Damien Blanch, Danny Bridge, Ben Currie, Liam Finn, Scott Grix, Kurt Haggerty, James Hasson, Rory Kostjasyn, Stuart Littler, James Mendeika, Tyrone McCarthy, Anthony Mullally, Eamon O’Carroll, Apirana Pewhairangi, Pat Richards, Brett White
Fiji: Jayson Bukuya, Petero Civoniceva, Kane Evans, Aaron Groom, Marika Koroibete, Apisai Koroisau, Daryl Millard, Kevin Naiqama, Waisale Ligani Naiqama, Alipate Noilea, Vitale Junior Roqica, Ashton Sims, Korbin Sims, Tariq Sims, James Storer, Akuila Uate, Elani Vunakece, Sisa Ledua Waqa, Semi Radradra, Turagasoli Waqavatu