Fiji have been forced to name an inexperienced scrumhalf in their starting lineup for Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks in Dunedin after Covid-19 travel restrictions prevented veteran Frank Lomani and two others from entering New Zealand.
Lomani, fellow scrumhalf Moses Sorovi and flyhalf Teti Tela were left stranded in Queensland when New Zealand halted the trans-Tasman travel bubble following a fresh outbreak of Covid-19 in Australia.
This has led to the selection of two-Test scrumhalf Simione Kuruvoli, who comes up against Aaron Smith in his 98th Test for the All Blacks.
“He has big shoes to fill, but he has trained really well, speaks and connects well with Ben Volavola, plus he’s got Kini Murimiruvalu at fullback who will also guide him,” Fiji coach Vern Cotter said of Kuruvoli’s inclusion.
Brive utility Seta Tuicuvu will cover the fullback, flyhalf and scrumhalf roles.
Fiji’s preparation time, after coming out of quarantine six days ago, was not ideal “but when we see what’s happening in Fiji, we just want to play well and hopefully we will lift spirits on the island”, Cotter said, referring to the coronavirus outbreak sweeping through the Pacific nation.
Peni Ravai, Sam Matavesi and Mesake Doge form the front row while Olympic sevens gold medallist Leone Nakarawa is at lock with Albert Tuisue from London Irish at the back.
“Leone Nakarawa coming back in the team has helped cohesion in the lineout and lineout calling as he brings experience,” Cotter said.
“We will need leadership and the forwards will have to be very good because we have to protect Simione Kuruvoli who is only having his second game with Fiji.
“Our backline has always been a strength.”
The 32-Test Volavola will steer the side from flyhalf with Levani Botia and Waisea Nayacalevu in the midfield and strong runners Nemani Nadolo and Eroni Sau on the wings.
The 32-year-old Murimurivalu, who has played in the past three World Cups, is at fullback.
“We have been happy with the preparation, that hasn’t been ideal but when we see what’s happening in Fiji, we just want to play well and hopefully we will lift spirits on the island.”
Fiji – 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Levani Botia (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Simione Kuruvoli, 8 Albert Tuisue, 7 Mesulame Kunavula, 6 Johnny Dyer, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Temo Mayanavanua, 3 Mesake Doge, 2 Samuel Matavesi, 1 Peni Ravai.
Subs: 16Peni Narisia, 17 Haereiti Hetet, 18 Leeroy Atalifo, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Setareki Tuicuvu, 22 Eneriko Buliruarua, 23 Manasa Mataele.
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: Koki Nagahama/Getty Images