23 Mar 2017

Sport: Fijian rugby players in Europe urged to commit future to national team

1:12 pm on 23 March 2017

Flying Fijians coach John McKee is optimistic more young players in Europe are keen to commit their rugby futures to Fiji.

McKee has spent the past couple of weeks in France speaking face to face with Fijian players, including senior internationals and an emerging group recruited as teenagers by French academy sides.

France wingers Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa were both recruited from Fiji before switching their allegience to Les Bleus.

Fiji-born winger Noa Nakaitaci playing for Clermont.

Fiji-born winger Noa Nakaitaci playing for Clermont. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

John McKee said 45 to 50 Fijian players are being tracked worldwide for the national team, of which 30 are in Europe, including 20 in France.

"We've got a lot of young players starting to make their mark up here now - players that came across here when they were 18, 19 or 20," he said

"So getting in front of quite a number of those guys on this trip to let them know that we've got our eye on them and what the future can hold for them."

"There's always going to be some that go but hopefully if they move to a five year residential rule that would make it a bit more difficult for other teams to pick players."

The Flying Fijians in Vannes, France.

The Flying Fijians in Vannes, France during the 2016 end of year tour. Photo: Fiji Rugby Union

John McKee said some of the uncapped players are in contention for Fiji's 2019 World Cup but he expected a number of them would be test regulars by 2023.

French clubs have been very aggressive in their recruitment of players from the Pacific, although the flow of has slowed this year after some regulations were changed.

"Certainly the clubs would I think sometimes like to have players that are not committed to any international team so then they have access to them the whole year," he said.

"I'd hope with some of the other adjustments made around the test match windows post 2019 that the club versus country problems and clashes will be reduced.

"I had a meeting while I was in Paris at the French Federation. That's what we discussed was player availability for test matches and they emphasised they would fully support Fiji Rugby in any issues we may have around the availability of our players so that for us is very positive."

Fiji rugby coach John McKee.

Fiji rugby coach John McKee. Photo: Facebook / Fiji Rugby

John McKee said the annoucement of changes to World Rugby's global calendar from 2020 is also good news for Fiji, with England and France both committing to touring the Pacific Islands.

He said, as well as valuable on-field opportunities, it should also offer some welcome off-field benefits.

"With Italy and Scotland down in Fiji this year and Wales also touring the Pacific we can see quite a clear commitment there by some of the northern nations to play in the Pacific," he said.

"But it's really important post 2019, with the calendar being more settled and more inbound tours to the Pacific that we get our commercial reality around that all sorted as well, around sponsorship and TV rights and that sort of thing, that we can actually generate some income for the Pacific Island nations."

England's prop Mako Vunipola (L) vies with Fiji's scrum half Serupepeli Vularika.

Fiji can look forward to hosting England from 2020. Photo: AFP