Rugby World Cup
Cult hero Nemani Nadolo shows why Fijian hopes rest on his broad shoulders
Tom Hamilton
September 18, 2015
England 35-11 Fiji (video available in Australia only)

TWICKENHAM -- Before kick-off in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup, amid the fanfare and pyrotechnics of the opening ceremony, 20 legends of the game were presented to the crowd. They were raised on various sized stages, next to the gigantic rugby ball at the centre of the showpiece. They were elevated into some sort of mythical status in front of the passionate Twickenham crowd and Martin Johnson received the most touching of cheers - something he looked visibly moved by. They were the pre-game icons but one man stood above all others when the game started - Nemani Nadolo.

The tears streamed down his face during the Fiji anthem. Even the most imposing of figures can be reduced to sentimental rubble when they go to their own personal space at a moment when emotions run into the dark sky above Twickenham.

He is the most paradoxical of rugby figures. He is softly-spoken, entertaining and personable but the minute the first ball is hoofed into the air he goes to a place where self-regard for his body is near non-existent and his sole focus is on breaking the gainline and hammering the opposition. But even that is mixed with his calm, relaxed kicking style as he stroked over a penalty just before half-time - though his efforts from the tee let him down in the second half.

© Chris Lee - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

He was far more comfortable on the ball. His first run saw George Ford propelled backwards at a rate of knots. Though he lost the first high ball dual with Anthony Watson, he won the one that mattered in the 29th minute when he rose above the Bath man, utilising his 12 extra centimetres in height, to clutch Ben Volavola's pinpoint cross-kick.

Wobbly England sneak bonus point victory

His work was not restricted to carrying, though whenever he came in off his wing England were forced to regroup to put speed bumps in his way. When Ben Morgan looked to break away in the final throes of the first half, it was Nadolo who stripped him off the ball. When England tried to break away from their try-line moments before, it was him who held them there.

Come the second half he involuntarily awoke the increasingly quiet crowd - at one stage you could hear the small contingent of France fans singing La Marseillaise - when he was bundled into touch by Joe Launchbury. But he was soon back as that proverbial thorn in England's side when he turned them over in their own half as the game went into the final quarter.

In the end, like Fiji, his opportunities became sparser as the introduction of Owen Farrell turned the tide of the game back in England's favour. His efforts will not constitute points in the table but this incarnation of the World Cup has its first cult hero.

Play ESPNfootytips Rugby World Cup Tipping

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.