Scotland rugby team prepared for battle with friendly foe in Fiji

Former Glasgow forward Leone Nakarawa in action for Fiji against Australia earlier this month. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Former Glasgow forward Leone Nakarawa in action for Fiji against Australia earlier this month. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
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Ask any rugby player; there is always something special about taking on friends. Don’t expect quarter, don’t give it, but the reunion afterwards is going to be a lot of fun as you compare bruises.

Oddly, that is exactly the position that most of the Glasgow Warriors players are going to find themselves in when they face Fiji in Suva on Saturday.

You’d expect travelling to the Pacific Island on the opposite side of the globe would be a chance for radically different experiences, not a chance to meet old friends. Yet tight bonds of friendship are a big part of the equation this week. Leone Nakarawa and Niko Matawalu may have left the club but their hearts remain there.

“They love Glasgow and were cut up when they had to leave. Both come to watch our games,” revealed Josh Strauss, who is soon going to find himself in the same boat when he moves to Sale.

“Niko [Matwalu], because he is closer, drives up to watch them and goes out with boys after games. He enjoys it. They both say the team is their brothers. I think the two of them actually mean it.”

Nakarawa is plying his trade in Paris, so his chances to make it back are more restricted, but he does when he can and many of the Glasgow players and their families still welcome him into their homes.

It is all a bit less exotic for the Edinburgh players who still play alongside Viliame Mata week-in, week-out but for all of them the meeting on the Fijian home turf is going to be a moment to look forward to.

“Hopefully they are not on form,” Strauss suggested. If they are, then Scotland could be in for a testing afternoon since these two and their similarly talented team-mates can test any defence with their brand of fast, loose, open play.

“If you let them play without a structure, they are some of the best in the world. Anyone who has seen Nakarawa play asks me: ‘did you play with Nakarawa?’ He is amazing.

“Their structure is not the same as any other team you play. Their coaches will have a structure in place – it’s just the team as individuals don’t stick with it. When I played with Niko, that was his thing and that is what made him good, and what makes them all good.

“It will be tough to analyse them. You never know what they are going to do. Also they are the sort of team that if they are up on the day you have a big game on your hands.

“We have to bring structure to the game, and execute it well and we will do well.”

From a Scottish point of view, with the players still on a high after their win in Australia at the weekend, the advantage of inside knowledge may tilt a little their way – they are the ones with the inside line on the team that aims to surprise.

It was when Scotland visited Fiji five years ago that Matawalu came to the attention of the Scotland set-up. Gregor Townsend, then newly installed as the Glasgow head coach offered him a deal.

It took the player a few months to settle but once he was unleashed he quickly established himself as one of the most lethal attacking threats in European rugby and just as quickly became a firm crowd favourite at Scotstoun.

Nakarawa arrived a bit later and had cemented his place in Glasgow folklore long before his stunning performance in the Guinness Pro12 final that made sure the trophy made its way to Scotland.

“Growing up as someone who loves rugby I always loved watching them play,” Strauss added. “They play exciting rugby and have big hitters in their team. Playing against them you hope they don’t hit you too hard so we have to make sure we get the defensive side of our game right. They are an exciting team and it will be a once in a lifetime experience for me this weekend, playing against a full Fijian team.”

Which is not to suggest that Scotland should be seen as anything other than favourites. They have only lost once to Fiji, back in the disastrous 1998 tour, and know the Islanders struggled to beat the Italian side the Scots had put away with some comfort the week before.

“With a team like Fiji, if they turn up on the day, they can give anybody a game,” Strauss maintained.

“We want to play well and play to our structures but if they turn up on the day, we will have a big, big arm wrestle on our hands.”