Nadolo versus Nando’s? Only one winner there. “I probably ate two whole chickens,” said Nemani Nadolo, the 20st Fijian wing, recalling a recent extra-curricular trip to fast-food land, prompted by a sudden falling out of love with hotel cuisine. You can see his point. A chap needs proper sustenance if he’s to punch his weight in the World Cup arena. Fricassée of courgette with a baton of braised celery is no use to man nor beast, still less to a man who plays like a beast.
These South Sea islanders, ranked ninth in the world after a productive summer’s work on the Pacific Nations Championship front, are not short of size, or power, or any of the other things for which their rugby has traditionally been celebrated. But Nadolo is above and beyond. During the four years he spent in Japanese club rugby – “I’m not being disrespectful, but anyone with two legs could play there” – he was used as a back-row forward as well as a wing, sometimes in the same move.
“I had a few runs at No 8, sometimes at flanker,” he said. “When there was a line-out, they sent me straight to the wing [presumably because there were precious few volunteers for the lifting duties]. When it came to the scrums, they wanted me in the pack. I felt more at home doing that.”
Down in New Zealand, where he has been playing a vastly superior brand of Super Rugby with the Crusaders, they see it differently. To the Christchurch cognoscenti, he is at his most destructive – and, therefore, his most valuable – in the wide-open prairies rather than the darkened recesses, and he has responded by scoring freely enough to give England pause for thought ahead of Friday night’s big game at Twickenham. What is more, he has taken to goal-kicking like the proverbial duck to water.
“There’s a perception of me, isn’t there?” he said, reflecting on the 22 points he accumulated from the tee with a flawless display of marksmanship in the warm-up victory over Canada earlier this month. “They all think I’m just big and expect me to run the ball straight, but I was fortunate enough to play soccer when I was growing up and I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t feel I could handle it. I’m not too fussed that people are asking why I’m kicking. I believe in myself.”
Are we talking about a new Jonny Wilkinson here? Nadolo did not go quite that far. “No one is as good as that bloke,” he said of England’s saintly and sainted outside-half of yore. “But I really pride myself on what I do, because it can be tough, being a big guy. You always get people saying, ‘Ah, he’s too big, he’s too slow, why is he playing on the wing?’ It’s been like that my whole career. I’ve always been told I’m not good enough, so I like proving people wrong.”
It may be that the good folk of Exeter are towards the top of that list. Nadolo spent four months at the club as a 23-year-old in 2011, but was released shortly after appearing before city magistrates and admitting a drink-driving charge. “I was parked outside a nightclub and fell asleep in the driver’s seat,” he said of the incident. “The police knocked on the door. The next thing I knew, I was in the watch house. It was probably silly of me to do that. It didn’t help.”
What it did do was point him in the direction of New Zealand and a standard of rugby more challenging than anything he had previously experienced. “That’s when it happened for me,” he said. If he has his way, he will make something happen for Fiji.
Daring, dangerous, devastating: Fiji’s World Cup drama
France 31 Fiji 16
Auckland, June 1987
France were blessed with attacking genius – Blanco, Lagisquet, Sella, Charvet – but they had to shut up shop to win a quarter-final in which Fiji threatened to run them ragged. Had the mesmerising Severo Koroduadua, dummying to the line with the ball in one hand, not fumbled with a try there for the taking, who knows?
Fiji 38 Wales 34
Nantes, September 2007
One of the great World Cup matches – a nine-try extravaganza that sent the islanders into the knockout phase and put the Welsh on a flight home. The prop Graham Dewes scored the decisive points in prosaic style late on, but tries from Akapusi Qera, Vilimoni Delasau and Kele Leawere were the stuff of poetry.
South Africa 37 Fiji 20
Marseille, October 2007
Two classics in a week. Publicly belittled by the Springbok centre Jaque Fourie, the Fijians drew deep from the well of hurt and scared the pants off the eventual champions with some blistering rugby. A try-saving tackle from the Bok wing J P Pietersen, with the scores locked at 20-all, proved the tipping point.
Chris HewettReuse content