The Red Eye :: Fiji (H)

The key to beating Fiji lies in exploiting their key vulnerability; time.

When you look at the individuals Fiji have named in their match day squad – Nakawara, Botica, Nadolo, Murimurivalu – the one thing you don’t want to do is enter into a wide-wide game of shoot out rugby with them. Do that, and they’ll slice you up. They might not win, but they’ll certainly push you closer than what you might feel is comfortable until you figure out the best way to play them.

The best way to attack Fiji is always to exploit the things that time dictates they can’t practice. You hit their set piece. You hit their kick transition. You hit their phase defence. Do that, and the win will come eventually.

Scouting Issues

Looking at Fiji in advance of a game like this is almost futile. They spend so little time together as a group that their play is rudimental in a lot of ways but their inherent physicality and talent with the ball means they can never be safely dismissed.

I watched their game against Italy and saw them give up a startling amount of opportunities that only went unpunished due to Italian profligacy.

Where would I start attacking Fiji? Big open plays on phase two or three.

Look at this jagged defensive line! We can’t blame this on conditioning – it’s 6 minutes into the game. This is almost purely down to lack of time together as a defensive unit. If Italy hadn’t committed to a kick play (that they put out on the full) they could have attacked Fiji either side of the lead defender. Inside ball, outside pass – it was all there for them just based on the jagged Fijian advance.

This shows itself whenever you get more than two good phases together over a spread distance.

Look at the gap between the pillar and first defender in this GIF under the shadow of the posts;

Any kind of quick ball option around the fringe is probably a try for Italy here. This kind of defensive lapse is purely down to a lack of time together.

This combination of misalignment and jagged linespeed was not in any way isolated. If Italy’s attacking IQ was even a few points higher, they could have cut Fiji up the middle again and again.

Just have a look at this examples;

Look at white #4, #3 and #1
Again, look at white #4, #3 and #1
Look at that deep, gappy seam outside the last forward defender. One pass from an Italian forward puts runners into a space you could park a van.
This is crazy linebreak to give up on a big open phase like this. You have two guys defending narrow and two guys defending a gapped 20 metre line.

And this was all inside the first 20 minutes.

We saw the defensive link between Ma’afu, Romumu and Ratuniyarawa stretched again and again in those early GIFs.¬†Romumu isn’t playing this weekend but his replacement – Manasa Saulo – is probably even less mobile than he is. I’d imagine Joe Schmidt will be targeting a number of inside ball plays on phase three and four as that space develops between the tight five.

They are extremely vulnerable to this particular play – all stranger defences with massive variances in defensive pace are.

Targeting Fiji’s front row and Ratuniyarawa in transition between rucks on big open plays is a recipe for easy gain line every single time without fail.

Those gaps will be there from minute one and only get bigger as the game progresses.

If we can get Carbery, McCloskey and Farrell running nice and flat onto some good phase three ball, there’s no limit to what we might achieve in this game.

Structure

As a scrummaging side, Fiji are actually quite strong or at least they were against Italy. Italy, however, are not the power scrummagers they have been in the past so I’d expect Ireland to have quite a bit of dominance here. If Porter runs into trouble early, we’ve got the best tighthead prop in Europe on the bench if needs be. Handy, isn’t it?

In the lineout, Fiji suffer quite a bit from the lack of prep time. Their lineout throwing is pretty rudimentary – by necessity – and while Tuapati has a decent technical throw, he found it incredibly difficult to find any Fijian jumpers with regularity against Italy. It’s not that Fiji have bad jumpers – far from it – it’s just that their lift patterns are fairly basic and give away a lot of what their plans are on any given throw.

This one was always going too low for Nakawara.

This is a decent throw but look at #3; he’s plainly not involved in this throw so Italy can focus on the tail to the target – Nakawara. And that’s the problem.

Against Italy, 88% of Fiji’s successful lineouts went to Nakawara. All Italy had to do was move a lift pod to wherever Nakawara was, time his jump and try to spoil the throw. If I was Joe Schmidt, I’d be looking at sticking Jordi Murphy on Nakawara and sticking Toner in the middle of every lineout to “choke” Nakawara into either the front or the tail. That way, we either force Fiji to hit their other jumpers – who they don’t like using – or force them to try and find Nakawara under pressure. Either way, we attack every single lineout without fail because I don’t really rate Fiji’s maul as anything other than a ploy to launch runners. Their over-reliance on Nakawara as an outlet is such that I’d almost be comfortable attacking them in the air in our own red zone.

On our ball, we’ll have to be rock solid on our own throw because Nakawara is capable of planting at 2 and attacking every ball from there as he did against Munster in the Champions Cup last month. If we can get a regular outlet going to 4/5/tail we can and will maul them off the park.

If we can get any kind of regular service to the tail, the seam between 10 and lineout is always accessible against Fiji, almost more than any other sides.

Italy hit an inside ball here but the seam is so big that they could have gone wide here as easily. Remember, when a team are worried about a 10’s ability to defend a seam, they’ll narrow around him – meaning space inside the 10 and outside the 13.

Look for a Joe Schmidt Special here with Conway and Sweetnam as the point of the whip and the imposing duo of McCloskey and Farrell as the bludgeon.

Loose

Other than that, we really just need to watch Fiji’s power runners on phase play and, of course, the offload. I’d be game for attacking their rucks with serious numbers to force their pack into a tight dog fight. As an attacking threat, I’d rate them as being more dangerous than South Africa with ball in hand but worse under contestable high balls by some margin. Nadolo is a guy who’s lethal with ball in hand but extremely vulnerable to getting infield on phase defence and turning into a concrete bollard under the high ball.

Look for Carbery to attack that aspect of his game but the one danger is kicking runnable ball to Fiji and exposing our kick transition with new combinations all over our backline.

If we play this smart, we’ll win by 30+. Let’s see how it goes.