Rugby World Cup
Prime time for Wallabies to play rugby Test in Fiji, Henry Speight says
Sam Bruce
October 13, 2015
Rugby World Shield would support 'minnows'

Wallabies flyer Henry Speight has hailed the contributions of the Rugby World Cup's minnow nations and says it's the "prime time" for Australia to play a Test in Fiji.

Fiji, along with the other Tier Two nations, have helped to make the current World Cup one of the best on record, with the likes of Japan, Georgia and Romania recording memorable victories in the Pool stage.

The smaller stadiums throughout England have been full of colour with fans getting into the festival feel that exists at the matches between the lower-ranked nations. Some of the most entertaining rugby of the tournament has been played in those fixtures while Fiji's efforts in a tough Pool A, and Japan's shock win over South Africa, have shown that the gap is closing.

"There's been a lot said about the Fijian team and how they've performed in the so-called 'Pool of Death'," Speight told ESPN. "But to be fair, they played above what people expected them to play. All the games against Australia, England and Wales were all within respectable margins and that's the story of the World Cup so far, I think.

"It's fair to say the three Pacific nations and other Tier Two nations, whether in Europe, Japan - the more exposure they can have to Tier One teams the better. Fiji hasn't had many games against Tier One nations, or they've been one-off games, during the spring tours and what not; so that's the only way they'll get better to bridge that gap I guess."

Australia's Henry Speight runs in to score a try, Australia v Uruguay, Rugby World Cup, Villa Park, Birmingham, September 27, 2015
Henry Speight © Getty Images

Australia last played Fiji outside a World Cup back in 2010 in Canberra, while the Islanders last faced New Zealand in 2002. The New Zealand Maori have since played a number of matches in Fiji while the Junior All Blacks and Australia A spent some time in the Pacific Nations Cup, but more needs to be done to help drive rugby in the Islands; with the All Blacks having taken a match to Samoa this season, the onus should fall on Australia to follow suit - particularly since they have Speight, Tevita Kuridrani and Taqele Naiyaravoro on their roster.

"It would be massive," Speight told ESPN of a potential visit from the Wallabies to Fiji.

"There have been a few Fijians in both [Wallabies and All Blacks] teams over the past decade or so [and] there's massive fan bases for both teams back home. And if they're not supporting Fiji, they're supporting the All Blacks or the Wallabies - and even South Africa because the only games we had access to [on television] were the Tri Nations games back in the day, and that's how certain loyalties and fan bases have been formed.

"So it would be massive, I reckon, for the people back home. They would turn out in numbers, I reckon, whether it's in the grounds or in the trees next to the grounds. I haven't been part of a Tier one game that's been held in Fiji and I grew up there, so it's a long time coming."

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Speight has played just the one match, against Uruguay, during the World Cup, but Kuridrani has been a lock for the Wallabies at outside centre. Nemani Nadolo, meanwhile, was one of the stars of a hugely improved Fijian side that finished fourth in Pool A having enjoyed periods of dominance against England in the tournament opener, and then also against Australia and Wales before they defeated Uruguay.

Speight said the stars playing across the globe were an inspiration to the kids back home, and showed they could play either for Fiji or another nation and become a superstar from both avenues. Then there's the prospect of the cousins, Kuridrani and Nadolo, playing against each other on home soil.

"There's Tevita, myself, Nemani and even Taqele, who played in Chicago, so what makes it a bit more of a bigger following is Fijians playing for another team; and having two in the Wallabies at the moment is generating a lot of popularity back home, and a lot of following of Fijians around the world," Speight told ESPN.

"So to have two in one team is very special, and it's something I will treasure; just representing the whole of Australia was a great honour, and also for the kids in Fiji, who are dreaming big, seeing that it's not impossible to play for one of the Tier One nations one day.

"So it would be a prime time, probably, to head back there, and I know Nemani is the same; he's doing it really well, being from Brisbane and coming through in New Zealand and making a name for himself. It would be massive, and the two cousins would get to play against each other."

Jones: Japan no longer a 'joke team'

One of the few sad spots about the World Cup comes when the minnow nations have to return home, despite their fantastic contributions during the pool phase.

ESPN on Tuesday launched the #RWShield campaign for the eliminated teams to enter into Sevens-style finals in which they are placed into a Plate, Bowl or Shield section - as is done on the HSBC World Series - to determine their final placings. The matches would provide the Tier Two nations with valuable playing time, while they could be held midweek, and possibly even as double-headers, to maintain the tournament's momentum.

Speight said the more rugby the Fijians back home could see the better.

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"I would never [have] dreamt of being here, representing Australia," he said. "I dreamt of playing at the World Cup one day, but I never dreamt of playing for Australia. So it's a massive honour to be here and to be part of this team and to represent this country.

"So for the kids back in Fiji, if they dream big there are no limits to what they can achieve. There's two of us playing for Australia, there's [Waisake] Naholo playing for the All Blacks, there's Noa [Nakaitaci] playing from France, a mate of mine who I played [Under-] 19s with is playing for Italy.

"So there are many [Fijians] that are across the globe, and it's not only us playing [at the World Cup] but all the guys playing rugby across the world that are making all the kids back home to want to play rugby. So it's pretty special."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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