Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has warned the Pacific islanders should not be underestimated at the Rugby World Cup, insisting they are capable of winning the entire tournament.
Fiji, ranked ninth in the world, are placed in the so-called pool of death at the September-October event alongside heavyweights England, Australia, Wales and Uruguay.
With only two quarter-final qualification spots up for grabs in Pool A they are expected to struggle, but Bainimarama tipped Fiji as the surprise package of the tournament, which opens in England next month.
“We expect you to win, not only every game, but the World Cup itself,” he told the team at a farewell function in Suva on Thursday night.
“Here in Fiji, as a small Pacific island nation, we will give the big boys a run for their money,” Bainimarama said.
“We’ve always punched above our weight, that is why our sevens team are the current world champions, that is why anyone in the Rugby World Cup who underestimates Fiji this year will be in trouble,” he added.
Fiji’s best performances at the World Cup are two quarter-finals appearances, in 1999 and 2007, with British bookmaker Ladbrokes rating them a 1,000-1 shot to win this year’s title.
However, they are brimming with confidence after beating neighboring Samoa in the recent Pacific Nations Cup.
Bainimarama said there were high expectations for the squad, which is dominated by Europe-based professionals and coached by New Zealander John McKee.
“Fiji’s hopes and aspirations are with you and much is expected,” said the Pacific island leader, who is also president of the Fiji Rugby Union.
Fiji face hosts England in the opening fixture of the World Cup at Twickenham on Sept. 18.
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