Missing link: Drua allows for wider selection – Raiwalui

New Flying Fijians head coach Simon Raiwalui. Picture: FT FILE

Flying Fijians head coach Simon Raiwalui says the introduction of the Fijian Drua club allows for a wider selection of players and not be too reliant on Europe-based athletes.

Raiwalui left for Europe this week to attend a World Rugby workshop in London and formally introduce himself to Europe-based Fijian players.

“That (Fijian Drua) was the missing gap for us. The pathway went up to U20s and the Warriors, which is technically U23, but after that you played in the domestic competition or you went overseas,” Raiwalui told World Rugby.

“So what the Drua gave us was an opportunity to have up to 40 players live and breathe rugby professionally at home in Fiji, and it has obviously grown our talent pool, our depth chart.

“We have obviously been very reliant on our European-based players but now we have got another 40-plus players in our depth charts that probably weren’t all there 18 months ago, so it is a huge success story for Fiji rugby and we’ll only benefit from it moving forward.

“The number of players that were up for selection in the first year was huge and with the continued success and development of players means there will be a number of people putting their hands up for selection which is obviously a good problem to have.”

The former Fiji captain, who won 43 caps over a 10-year Test career, will be putting together a team to compete in the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) against Tonga and Samoa, before facing Japan, England and France in August.

Those five matches will give Raiwalui a good indication of where his team, drawn from all over the world, will be at before they head off to France for Pool C fixtures against Wales, Australia, Georgia and Portugal.

“Due to the circumstances, getting fixtures has been difficult and getting our team together has been difficult. The November before (2022), we couldn’t pick anyone from the southern hemisphere so we had to pick a purely European-based squad and in New Zealand we were in quarantine for two weeks before facing the All Blacks.

“So there have been challenges over the three years but we are really looking forward to the fixture list leading into the Word Cup and our preparation.

“We don’t have enough time to reinvent the wheel and we’ll be working on the things that have been put in place in the last three-and-a-bit years with the tactical stuff and just try and fine-tune it and go to the World Cup in the best condition possible.

“I think it’ll lead to us being in the right space.”

Fiji is in Pool C at RWC 2023 along with Australia and Wales, who have also had a change of coach in the last few months, as well as Rugby Europe Championship grand finalists, Georgia and Portugal.

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