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Fiji’s Sam Matavesi ‘ready to play’ in World Cup quarter-final despite father's death

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Hooker Sam Matavesi is ready to play for Fiji against England in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals despite the death of his father earlier this week, head coach Simon Raiwalui said on Friday.

Mataevsi’s participation was in doubt after the 31-year-old went home to England, where he was born, on Tuesday following the death of his father, Sireli, a former rugby player.

But Raiwalui named Matavesi on the bench for Sunday’s clash in Marseille after revealing the hooker was already back in France.

“He came back in this morning, he was adamant he wanted to be here. He’s a fantastic young man,” said Raiwalui.

“He’s very good on his details so there’s no worries there, I’ve no doubt that he’ll be ready for the game and ready to play.”

Matavesi dropping to the bench is one of five changes from the team that began the 24-23 defeat to Portugal last Sunday.

“He told me earlier in the week that his father had fallen ill,” said Raiwalui, who has known the family for many years, since he was a player and coach at Racing 92 in Paris from 2007-13.

“I’ve got a connection there with Josh, his older brother, who stayed with me at Racing,” added Raiwalui.

“Sam came over as well, so I’ve known them quite a long time.

“When he told me (about his father) he was devastated, as you would be. I really pushed for him to get back and see his dad.

“But he assured me right from the start that his father would want him to play this game — he wanted to play this game.

“I just made sure he had every opportunity to be with his family at this important time.”

‘Family first’

Tevita Ikanivere gets his first start at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday in Matavesi’s place having come off the bench in all four pool matches.

If he does play, Matavesi will be supported by his siblings Josh, a former Fiji international, and Joel, also a former rugby player.

“One of my philosophies is always family first, that is the most important thing in life, your family,” said Raiwalui.

“He got to go home. His brothers have come over with him for the weekend so they’ll get to enjoy the occasion with him and celebrate his father’s life.”

It was the second family bereavement to have hit the Fiji camp during the World Cup after Josua Tuisova’s seven-year-old son Tito died.

Raiwalui’s other changes see Semi Radradra return from a hamstring injury to start on the left wing with Vinaya Habosi switching to the opposite flank and Selestino Ravutaumada missing out.

“Semi’s a world class player,” said Raiwalui.

“Semi brings experience playing at the highest level in rugby league, rugby union, playing in those big matches.”

Ilaisa Dorasese gets the nod at full-back with Sireli Maqala dropping to the bench.

Albert Tuisue, who normally plays in the back row, comes into the second row in place of Temo Mayanavanua and Lekima Tagitagivalu is preferred to Meli Derenalagi at blindside.

“Albert brings great versatility, he’s able to play back row, second row,” said Raiwalui.

“He also brings us a bit of power through that second row, an extra ball carrier, so he’s really important, it’s really good to have him back in the pack.”

Tuisue said he had not played a Test match at lock for five years.

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Team (15-1)

Ilaisa Droasese; Vinaya Habosi, Waisea Nayacalevu (capt), Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra; Vilimoni Botitu, Frank Lomani; Viliame Mata, Levani Botia, Lekima Tagitagivalu; Albert Tuisue, Isoa Nasilasila; Luke Tagi, Tevita Ikanivere, Eroni Mawi

Replacements: Sam Matavesi, Peni Ravai, Mesake Doge, Meli Derenalagi, Vilive Miramira, Simione Kuruvoli, Iosefo Masi, Sireli Maqala

AFP

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