MARSEILLE: Last month Fiji serenaded King Charles with a beautiful hymn and broad smiles.
On Monday (AEDT) they will try to belt England out of the Rugby World Cup.
Such is the intoxicating contrast of this Fijian team, who are riding emotion, spirituality and shared loss into their second appearance at the World Cup quarter-finals.
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Their wrecking ball centre Josua Tuisova – man of the match in the shock win against Australia – is mourning the death of his seven-year-old son Tito.
Tuisova’s little boy lost his battle with a long illness just hours before the win over Georgia.
Tuisova played in that match and elected to stay in France with the team instead of returning home for Tito’s funeral.
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“We have all been trying to look after him,” Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu said of Tuisova.
“He has been sad, but he’s really strong. If it was me, I don’t know if I could do what he is doing.
“We keep encouraging him and telling him he’s OK. He has gone to a better place. He has managed that well and controlled it well, his emotions. I am proud of him and proud of the sacrifice he has made for the team. He has stuck with us.”
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Fiji have had a rollercoaster campaign under coach Simon Raiwalui, the former Wallabies assistant.
They nearly upset Wales in their opening match before beating the Wallabies for the first time in 69 years.
But then they were lucky to scrape past Georgia before a historic loss to Portugal.
The losing bonus point was enough to knock Australia out and qualify for the playoffs.
“I call them the Fijian piglets,” Wallabies great Mat Rogers said on Stan Sport’s RWC 2023 Central.
“Because when you chase a piglet, it only runs as fast as it has to to stay away from you, so that they are just doing enough.
“I mean, they got beaten by a point against Portugal but they are in the match and they’re just doing enough.
“It’s very risky doing that, but they’re just doing enough. I think their level’s going to rise against England. I give them a huge chance to beat this team.”
And why not, given Fiji did just that in August, with their first ever win over England.
The 30-22 triumph at Twickenham gave Fiji a huge shot of confidence but also means they have no chance of sneaking up on an improved England, who went 4-0 in pool play.
And everyone bar England supporters want the Fiji fairytale to continue.
Fiji were further rocked on Wednesday when the death of former international Sireli Matavesi was announced.
Matavesi’s son Sam is Fiji’s starting hooker.
“In Fiji family is everything,” Fiji kicking coach Seremaia Bai said.
“We have been 15 weeks away from our families since we started this campaign so we make that this becomes our family. If one suffers, we all suffer. In Fiji we are kind of a family even if we are from different provinces. We become very close.
“We know the players and the families come from humble beginnings and we make sure there is the care and the love that they need. It is a very tough moment but we need to stay together and care for one another.”