Fiji and Italy will face off Friday night in Canberra – in the last round of pool matches – with the Azzuri needing victory by 46 points to leapfrog the Bati into top spot of Group D and progress to the quarter finals. Although this result is highly unlikely Italy will still back themselves to pull off a massive upset to finish off their World Cup campaign on a winning note.
Fiji again flexed their muscles against an inferior opponent, beating Wales by a record 72-6 margin; their flamboyant backline again led the way, proving too much for the Welsh defence, whilst their forward pack again laid a solid platform.
Italy made amends for their poor first round by rolling the USA Hawks 46-0, their biggest ever win at a World Cup. After a difficult week where off-field incidents and injuries were the major talking points, the Azzuri would have been happy to put it all behind them and play some eye-catching football.
Fiji coach Mick Potter would have been happy just to get through the game without picking up any further injuries and whilst the Bati have racked up the points in their first two matches, Potter will enjoy having his side face a sterner test this week in preparation for next week’s likely quarter-final against New Zealand or Tonga. Potter has recalled Brayden Wiliame to the second row, replacing Salesi Faingaa who made an impressive debut, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a late switch prior to kick off.
Cameron Ciraldo would have been happy with the way his side bounced back against USA, although it would have been a bittersweet feeling after the round one loss to Ireland that put them in a near impossible position to make the quarter finals. Italy will hope Terry Campese recovers from his injury in time as his experience and direction will be key to the Azzuri pulling off an upset.
Italy will know they have to limit the amount of ball they give to the Fijians, knowing their speed and size will be too much to handle if given quality field position. Italy boast an impressive forward pack with Paul Vaughan, Nathan Brown and Daniel Alvaro all coming off breakout seasons in the NRL; they’ll know if they can dominate the forward exchanges they’ll be able to limit the impact of the Fijian backline whilst also giving their own star James Tedesco the chances he needs to create point-scoring opportunities of their own.
The marquee match up in this encounter is undoubtedly the clash of the NSW Origin fullbacks James Tedesco and Jarryd Hayne, in what promises to be an enthralling dual. With both sides evenly matched in the forwards it may come down to either of these players coming up with that special play to decide the result.
Although this will be the toughest task yet for Fiji in this World Cup the Bati have too much firepower out wide for Italy and should be too strong in this match, though if Italy can control possession a massive upset is not out of the question. Expect this game to be tight early but Fiji should prove too strong in the end and run away comfortable victors by 16 points.
Fiji v Italy at Canberra Stadium, Canberra, 7.40pm (AEDT) Friday
Fiji 21 man squad:
1 Kevin Naiqama (c) 2 Suliasi Vunivalu 3 Taane Milne 4 Akuila Uate 5 Marcelo Montoya 6 Jarryd Hayne 7 Henry Raiwalui 8 Ashton Sims 9 Apisai Koroisau 10 Eloni Vunakece 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Brayden Wiliame 13 Tui Kamikamica 14 Joe Lovodua 15 Jacob Saifiti 16 Junior Roqica 17 Petero Benjamin Nakubuwai 18 James Storer 19 Salesi Faingaa 20 Sitiveni Moceidreke 21 Pio Sokobalavu
Italy 21 man squad:
1 James Tedesco 2 Mason Cerruto 3 Justin Castellaro 4 Nathan Milone 5 Josh Mantellato 6 Terry Campese 7 Ryan Ghietti 8 Paul Vaughan 9 Joseph Tramontana 10 Daniel Alvaro 11 Jayden Walker 12 Mark Minichiello (c) 13 Nathan Brown 15 Brendan Santi 16 Shannon Wakeman 17 Joel Riethmuller 18 Christophe Calegari 19 Gavin Hiscox 20 Richard Lepori 21 Colin Wilkie 22 Mirco Bergamasco