World Cup qualifier pits Fiji against Cook Islands

World Cup qualifier pits Fiji against Cook Islands

World Cup qualifier pits Fiji against Cook Islands

Updated 7 May 2014, 7:00 AEST

Fiji and Cook Islands rugby teams focus on winner-take-all clash at the end of June

The new coach of Fiji's national rugby union team, the Flying Fijians, is facing a tough first few weeks with four big games coming up, culminating in the vital World Cup qualifier against Cook Islands at the end of June.

John McKee's first match in charge will be against the touring Italian team on June 7, followed by two matches in the Pacific Nations Cup against local rivals Samoa and Tonga.

Even though Fiji Rugby Union continues to face financial issues, the new coach says they won't be a distraction for him.

"There have been some problems with the IRB funding, that is very close to coming back on track so I'll be hopeful that is all back to the normal situation very soon," he said.

McKee won the job from a field of more than 20 candidates and told Pacific Beat he believes he was picked for his experience coaching in the Pacific since 2008 with the combined Pacific Islanders team and his experience with Tonga.

"As high performance manager (for the FRU), a lot of my job this year in particular has been around tracking the players form in different competitions around the world," he said.

"So I've got a very good knowledge of our players. I travelled to Europe last month and visited about 30 of our top players at their clubs in France and the UK ... so I think all those things have helped."

McKee says that although the pressure is on from the start, the important thing is to get the team's processes correct.

"I think for us the big upside is that all our games are in Fiji, so our preparation will be very good - we haven't got to deal with all the issues of travel," he said.

"I've got to be very wary of the Cook Islands game, I don't want any sort of feeling through the squad or around the union that that game will be an easy game.

"It'll be a very challenging game for us - so we must be very well prepared for a top performance on that day."

Cooks has Super 15 talent to choose from

Meanwhile, rugby players with Cook Islands heritage are queuing up to represent the national side in their winner-takes-all clash with Fiji next month.

The victors in the one-off game will secure a place in the World Cup finals, where they'll line up alongside Australia, Wales, and host nation England in Pool A next year.

The Cooks' coaching team has just completed a scouting mission to Australia where team manager Cam Kilgour says they struck gold.

"A lot of professional players from around the world have put up their hands to be a part of this possibly history-making game," he said.

Kilgour says he's likely to have available a total of eight from Australian including former Super 15 players and current extended squad Super 15 players, with four coming from Brisbane, two from Perth, and one each from Sydney and Melbourne.

They include Joe Rapana, former Queensland Reds centre, who recently flagged his availability.

"His knowledge and his experience and skill in his position in the centre and what he can provide to our side, especially against the Fijian backline, is really vital for us," Kilgour said.

From Melbourne, Joe Kamara, part of the Rebels extended squad has made himself available along with Steven Setephano who is currently playing in Japan and previously played for the Waikato Chiefs and the Highlanders.

"That's huge for us - just to get those professional players around our captain Stan Wright is really important - the more professional players we have, we think, we'll be a lot stronger," Kilgour said.

"Stephen Setephano has put out from the outset that he wants to play for us and wants to be a part of history so his experience again is just vital for our side.

"So it's great news for us and really good for the Cook Island community and we know that the Cook Island public are just so proud that he's put up his hand and wants to be a part of it."

Kilgour says his team will do its best to be ready for the Fiji game on June 28 but he says, Fiji have four test matches to prepare while Cook Islands has just two warm-up matches.

"This is the only preparation that we've been given but we think that we have the capability, within the coaching staff and especially now with the players, that we can put together a really good preparation, we can put together a really good camp and we can be as best prepared as we can possibly be to take on Fiji."