“People say to me on the street, ‘Oh Fiji are playing well and the Wallabies haven’t picked a strong team’ and all that. But I always say I have been to three World Cups and the one thing I can say is at World Cup time, it is anyone’s game,” Ma’afu said.
“It is whoever wants it most on the day. We learned that the hard way in 2019 when we lost to Uruguay.”
Ma’afu doesn’t believe Fiji will be prone to a similar emotional hangover this week, after losing a heartbreaker to Wales on Monday, and with many arguing they’d been dudded by the refereeing.
A fairer new schedule means the four-day turnaround isn’t a factor this time, and Ma’afu said the maturity of the Fiji squad under Simon Raiwalui – who was the Wallabies’ forwards coach in 2019 – will see that result parked and forgotten.
“Emotions is one of the things they have worked hard on, to take emotion out of the game,” Ma’afu said. “The game can’t be played on emotions anymore, and Fiji was like that for a fairly long time. They were a fairly emotional team and they used to strive off finding the motivation through the emotion.
“The senior leaders they have, like Waisea Nayacalevu, Semi Radradra, big Bill Mata at No.8, those guys have been around a long time. They realised we have to change the way we do things, and how we approach games, if we want to compete with the tier one nations.
“And 100 per cent Simon will steer them well away from any of that, thinking about the past. He’ll say we have to control the controllables, and that it’s us just playing.”
Ma’afu says the creation of the Fijian Drua in Super Rugby was the best thing that’s happened to Fijian rugby, and the team at the 2023 World Cup is the best – and best prepared – group that Fiji have ever sent to a tournament.
They must beat Australia to make their first quarter-finals at a World Cup since 2007, which was also held in France.
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