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Rugby

McKee looking to build for RWC 2023

October 5, 2019 12:38 am

The Pacific Islanders’ coach has given up on reaching the knockout stages, but is aiming for another prize.

Fiji Coach John McKee says automatic qualification for the next Rugby World Cup is vital not only for Fiji’s current crop of stars but also because it offers opportunities to give top-level experience to the squad’s emerging talent.

Progression from the pool stages is “probably beyond us now”, McKee, pictured, said after Fiji’s seven-try victory over Georgia on Thursday. The result may not be enough for the Flying Fijians to reach the quarter-finals but it could help them secure the valuable third spot in Pool D, which would guarantee qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023.

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McKee says a positive finish to this campaign will bode well for the development of Fiji’s young players.

“There are two perspectives. One is that World Rugby funding for Tier 2 nations is quite significant, and that works in two, two-year cycles,” McKee said of the importance of automatic qualification for the tournament when it returns to France in four years.

The other perspective is about planning.

“If you go to the table at the end of the 2019 with your plan for the next two years, it is geared towards the Rugby World Cup, whereas if you still need to qualify, your planning goes towards that.

“You can be under pressure to qualify and to stick with some of your tried and true players because you know that qualification games are really important, and it’s a bit safer to go with the players that you know, though you also have to ask yourself whether they are going to go through to the next World Cup.

“If you are already qualified, you can try some new, young guys and give them the experience of test-match rugby. We always want to win when we play, but the real goal is to build the best possible team for 2023.”

Fiji face Wales at Oita Stadium on Wednesday as the Pacific Islanders focus on their final pool game. The Welsh go into the clash on a high after closing out a 29-25 victory over Australia, who are the Six Nations champions’ closest rivals to finish top of the pool.

“Wales will certainly want to finish top of the pool and will want to avoid England in the quarter-finals,” McKee said. “All those things are irrelevant to us. What we have to do is to build on the momentum that we have from the Georgia game.

“While Wales will be a different opponent. We will have to change some things around the way we play the game, but it is a game that we can do well in. We know that Wales are a good side, coming off the Six Nations as champions, and what we have seen of them during the World Cup thus far is that they are playing with a bit more of an expansive game.

“They are probably a little bit more dangerous in attack and we know what a good defensive side they are, so we know that we are going to have to work very hard to put ourselves in a position to score points.

“It’s a style of game that we know we can do well in and to beat Wales we will have to be absolutely on top of our game.”

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