Simon Says . . . We’re Getting Fiji In Shape And We’ll Be Ready For Wales

There is one former Newport RFC rugby player who will spend this weekend plotting to try and ensure Wales fall flat on their faces at the Rugby World Cup in September.

He is Simon Raiwalui, once a hugely respected and loved second row at Rodney Parade and now head coach with Fiji, the country he played for with distinction.

Fiji are Wales’ first opponents in Pool C and the last time the two teams meet on French soil, back in 2007, things didn’t go so well in Nantes.

When the sides clashed in Tokyo four years ago it was Wales who came out on top, winning 29-17 thanks to a hat-trick of tries from Josh Adams.

On Saturday morning the Fijians – who compete as a team called Fijian Drua in Super Rugby – will face Canterbury Crusaders in the quarter-finals of the Super Rugby Pacific tournament.

They have already beaten them once and took down Queensland Reds last week to reach the knock-out stages for the first time.

They then take on Pacific Island rivals Tonga and Samoa, throughout July before lining-up up against Japan. Their preparations for the World Cup conclude with two games against France in August.

For Wales fans, their date with Fiji comes with an opening Pool C clash for Warren Gatland and his squad in Bordeaux on Sunday, September 10.

“The ultimate goal is the Rugby World Cup,” said Raiwalui, who played for Newport just before the introduction of regional rugby and then joined Saracens in 2003.

“We have got Tonga first here at home and they are a well-experienced team as they got some new players this year. Then we move on to Samoa and Japan. Those matches are in our region.

“We have a week off and then we will fly to Europe to play France and England which are great matches to play leading into the World Cup.”

While Raiwalui guides the Fijians towards that crucial Bordeaux tie, Gatland is busy planning for the same game this weekend as the Wales coach continues with fitness training at their Vale of Glamorgan Resort headquarters.

Later this month, Wales will travel to Switzerland and Turkey for specialist training camps and the squad size will be whittled down before each trip.

Gatland says: “We will reduce the squad to about 45 before we go to Switzerland so there’s a bit of jeopardy in the first part of the campaign.

“It’s a great opportunity for some players that were involved in the Six Nations and some youngsters for the future to show us what they are capable of doing in the first part of the preparation.

“In the past we’ve prided ourselves on how hard we’ve worked and how fit the squad has been. So that’s the message to the players to come in and make a statement, work really hard, make the coaches sit up and take notice and get yourself in great shape physically.”