Fiji Rugby skipper choice – the right move

The incredulous omission of Flying Fijians skipper Semi Radradra in the 33-member squad announced last week to face New Zealand by head coach Vern Cotter is a big surprise.

Radradra has been the key fixture for the Flying Fijians to break down any defence in international rugby and professional club rugby in teams he has represented.

The reason for his omission according to Cotter in the press release was that Radradra was representing Bristol Bears in the Gallagher Premiership semi-final which Bristol lost last weekend.

For the Flying Fijians collectively to follow covid-19 protocols, the two week quarantine requires them to be in New Zealand last weekend.

We will not get into any wasteful chatter for the pros and cons of Radradra coming in for the second test match, because if it was his choice to play for the nation at the Tokyo Olympics, we cannot do much. Great for Radradra.

Levani Botia Photo Credit: Fiji Rugby Union

The bright angle to this episode is the handing over of the captain’s armband to Top 14 La Rochelle centre Levani Botia.

Botia epitomizes the skipper who lays down his very dear life for his team when bestowed the honour of leadership which trickles down to total, absorbing commitment from his teammates.

A case in point, as a 23-year-old leading the national sevens team at the 2012 Gold Coast sevens tournament, where the inexperienced team won the World Rugby (was IRB then) series event.

The team was green with assistant national coach Timoci Wainiqolo standing in for head coach, military officer Alifereti Dere, and seven of the 12-member squad were debutants.

In the final where Fiji tore up the New Zealand defence to shreds and scored at will on attack, the most experienced players had nine to 10 tournaments under their belts.

New Zealand with skipper DJ Forbes, Lote Raikabula, Tim Mikkleson and Tomasi Cama Jnr., with over 45 tournaments each to their credit, couldn’t handle the animated effort under Botia’s guidance.

When the Flying Fijians are united to attack both sides of the ball at the breakdowns, attack and defence, any opposition would be a sorry motley crew catching shadows all day.

Well that was in the abbreviated code of the game; if it can translate into the full code; the united effort with relentless attacks, energetic striving at the breakdowns and bone crunching tackles would make a huge difference.

The leadership of Botia, and players fresh from the French Top 14 championship, Gallagher Premiership, Super Rugby, Guinness Pro14 and local elite training united and inspired will make a statement against the Kiwis.

The Kiwis on the other hand after the final of Super Rugby competition on last weekend will be all ready for the Fijians; the All Blacks are always lethal. The loss to England in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan may have dented their aura of invincibility, the team has always been revered as the best team in the world.

The Flying Fijians play the All Blacks on July 10 and July 17 in Dunedin and Hamilton respectively.

Botia at 32 now with the experience of two rugby world cups and nine years of Top 14 rugby week in week out, may not have the enthusiasm and un-abandoned trademark plays he was renowned for back then, he has shown the maturity and wisdom to aptly lead the team.

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