Rugby World Cup
Ben Volavola: From Sydney club rugby to World Cup opener
Sam Bruce
September 17, 2015
England v Fiji Preview

He was deemed good enough to be a candidate to take over from Dan Carter at the Crusaders and while that almost impossible ask will have to wait until next year, Ben Volavola will on Friday take on an arguably greater challenge -- piloting Fiji against England in the Rugby World Cup opener.

The 24-year-old Sydneysider was this week named at No.10 for the Twickenham clash when Fiji will look to spring one of the tournament's greatest upsets in a Pool that also features heavyweights Wales and Australia.

The 82,000 fans on hand at the home of English Rugby will easily provide the most overwhelming of atmospheres in Volavola's largely unheralded career, much of which had, until recently, been played out in the far less glorious confines of Sydney's Shute Shield.

Australia's mercurial playmaker, Quade Cooper, could face Volavola when the Wallabies meet Fiji in Cardiff next week, and the 57-Test veteran had nothing but praise for his fellow fly-half.

"I played against him a few times ... he's a very talented player with a great skill-set, he's tall, quick and has a good pass on him," Cooper said.

"I thought he was a fantastic player and he's obviously got a bright future ahead. Fijian teams have a lot of skill right across the board and to have a guy like him ... he understands structured play and that will only help Fiji be better team."

A schoolboy star with Sydney's powerful Newington College, Volavola joined the Waratahs at the start of the 2013 Super Rugby season and made his debut the same night as Wallabies superstar Israel Folau. Having come on at fullback late in the 25-17 loss to the Reds in Brisbane, Volavola mirrored Folau's feats that night with a try of his own.

But that would be where the similarities would end; Folau went on to star for the Waratahs and Wallabies for the next two years while Volavola managed just seven more appearances in Super Rugby.

There was a grand final defeat in the 2014 Shute Shield final with Southern Districts but until news of the Crusaders' interest broke Volavola had barely rated a mention.

A two-year deal with the seven-time Super Rugby champions has since been secured while Volavola also pledged his allegiance to Fiji; the fly-half helping guide the Islanders to this year's Pacific Nations Cup.

And now rugby's greatest arena awaits. The hosts enter the match as overwhelming favourites, yet the Fijians have shown enough this season to suggest this may be far more of a contest than the All Blacks' 41-10 hammering of Tonga in the 2011 Rugby World Cup opener.

Whether that turns out to be the case will have a lot to do with Volavola.

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© Sam Bruce

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