AFL International Cup 2017 – Great Britain v Fiji

11:15AM Tuesday August 15th

Royal Park, Melbourne

Jarrod Landells

 

Tuesday featured a schedule packed with key match ups that would decide the final positions before the big dances on the weekend. While there was no chance of waltzing into the “one day in August” for either the Bulldogs or the Tribe, both sides had plenty to play for with pride and a position in the 5th placed playoff on the line.

 

The mouth-watering line-up of games had drawn in some past champions of the VFL/AFL and a couple of current players to watch. Sheeds, Dermie and Dipper were all there, alongside Chris Johnson, Scott Cummings and Melbourne listed duo Neville Jetta and Colin Garland. They had picked a great day to join the small yet passionate throng of fans at Royal Park, with Great Britain and Fiji one of the many highlights for supporters of all stripes.

 

Coming off a bruising encounter with South Africa in Geelong, Fiji was out to return to the form that had provided an opening round win over France but eluded them since. Great Britain too had started their campaign positively and fallen behind the pack with a loss to regional rivals and International Cup heavyweights Ireland.

 

Pre-tournament, a win to the Bulldogs would have been at short odds given their size, recent winning form at home in Europe and range of talented players familiar with playing in Australia. Having passed the competition midpoint with both teams playing at a similar level, the odds would have been more like the toss of a coin. It promised to deliver that most favoured of game scenarios for those of us watching: a close one.

The contest was brought underway and both teams looked determined to get the early advantage. However, barely a few minutes had passed before panic started to creep into the Fijian defensive game. Sloppy tackling from the Tribe gifted Ryan Floyd a free kick straight in front which he duly converted.

Fears for a blowout in the first quarter were allayed when Jeffry Pauli took a solid mark on a lead, looked inside and hit up Patemosi Seilawa Masivou at half forward. He was then infringed upon after the fact, with the penalty bringing him to within scoring distance. Score he did, but only for a solitary point.

The jitters that gripped Fiji’s backs in the opening minutes had seemingly subsided; several pushes into attack from the Bulldogs were nullified by their opponents. Unfortunately for Fiji, their defenders were called upon to nullify regularly in the first quarter as Great Britain won a lot of the ball on the wings and were clean by foot when they disposed of the ball.

A classic pantomime moment unfolded when Nimilote Tuiloma Quo sprinted off the bench and ran down a totally unaware Michael Sharp from behind in a crunching tackle.

Still looking the better side, the Bulldogs continued to press hard. Seyonne Kadnapillai had a chance to punish the Fijians, but his kick faded left late to keep the punishment to a minimum.

See-sawing play ensued through the late middle of the term, with both sides only able to add more behinds to their totals.

The deadlock was broken in the last minute with Great Britain kicking another goal.

Quarter time scores: Great Britain 2.3.15 led Fiji 0.2.2

 

In the huddle for Fiji to lend support and tactical nous were none other than former AFL stars David Rodan (famously of Fijian extraction) and Aaron “Flash” Davey. Both have offered great insights to the Fijians at many stages throughout IC17 and these insights were in turn absorbed dutifully by the Tribe. Coach Simon Highfield praised his charges for winning the inside ball and leaving the Bulldogs sorer in the clinches, however he was unimpressed with the lack of running into space on the turnover and minimal pressure applied to the last line of British backs.

A nice goal to Andrew Walkenden got the second quarter up and running for the Bulldogs. Running was a theme in the second, as both sides frequently looked to play on. It was the trailing Fijians who fared better at the frenetic style, but unfortunately for them they could only manage more behinds.

Textbook transition from the half back flank saw Great Britain convert to undo all of Fiji’s good work (and then some) in one fell swoop.

British defender Christopher Britton worked exceptionally well to lock down the ball in Fiji’s forward fifty, his desperation helping to prevent several scores in several minutes.

The Tribe finally got rewarded for their exploits, kicking their first goal in the shadows of half time.

There would be no further goals in the first half, but that didn’t mean and end to the highlights. Luke Booth of the Bulldogs took a daring chest mark at half back after he’d gone back with the flight at a decent clip & going back the other way, Fiji’s Lorima Tabueqe Bativoli used his body masterfully to spoil a contest and followed up with brilliant tackling pressure to keep the scores unchanged into the long break.

Half time scores: Great Britain 4.5.31 led Fiji 1.5.11

 

Fiji seemed the fresher of the sides and racked up most of the possession, largely forward of centre.

It wasn’t just with ball in hand that Fiji looked imposing; Kadnapillai found out the hard way that the Tribe were no slouches at tackling when he was smashed by not one but two Fijian defenders. Fortunately he didn’t seem to be seriously affected, but had a spell on the bench to recover from the painful exercise all the same.

Despite their dominance, Fiji just couldn’t transform their effort into goals; the middle of the two big sticks was like a magnetic force at times, repelling Fijian shots left and right.

Another big hit on a Bulldog was executed by Kaiyava Davui, however this bump was fairly high and left Douglas Houston dazed and clutching at his jaw while his aggrieved teammates engaged in a brief but spiteful fracas with the Fijians.

The impassioned Great Britain boys took it upon themselves to respond and respond they did with a powerful team-lifting goal. Another goal to the Bulldogs added to the reprisal and in a low scoring affair looked like it might be enough to get them home, even with more than a quarter left to play.

Fiji had a last chance to claw back some of the margin as Dylan Wolfgramm marked on the siren, but he would do what so many of his colleagues had done all tournament as he added yet another behind to the Tribe’s tally.

Three quarter time scores: Great Britain 6.5.42 led Fiji 1.8.14

 

In a case of deja vu, Fiji again came out after the break looking fitter/fresher than their opposite numbers, only to be foiled by British backline brilliance. More of the same at the other end, as James Talbot took a lovely high mark 40 metres out and kicked the 7th goal for the Bulldogs.

To their credit, the Fijian midfielders continued to labour at their Sisyphean task of kicking goals, only to be denied by the Brits time and time again.

Pocket dynamo forward Kadnapillai claimed an amazing mark for a player his size, taking punishment from a larger Tribe defender in the process. A fairytale end for his day from the earlier bone-rattling tackle was not to be however, as he took the option to play on from his mark when it wasn’t really there, giving the ball back to Fiji close to goal.

Sweet delivery from Luke Matias to a hard-leading Marc Cashman resulted in the Dogs’ 8th goal, sealing a good day out for the follicularly-challenged forward.

With the game all but over, Fiji kicked their second goal with 5 minutes of game time remaining.

A third came hot on the heels of the last goal, courtesy of Alipate Kiti, which brought the margin closer to that befitting of such an entertaining match.

Final scores: Great Britain 8.8.56 defeated Fiji 3.9.27

 

Great Britain was the better side on the day, but not exceedingly so; Fiji would have much to be proud of in their efforts. A chance at 5th place beckons for Great Britain, to be played against the only country in the world (outside Australia, of course) where Australian Football is the national sport – Nauru.

Scores

Great Britain: 2.3 4.5 6.5 8.8 (56)

Fiji:                   0.2 1.5 1.8 3.9 (27)

Bests

Great Britain: Worthington, Ryland, Kadnapillai, Floyd, Cochran, Hastie, Walkenden

Fiji: Seilawa Masivou, Pauli, Valesu, Kiti, Tabueqe Bativoli, Vunitabua

About

A classic jack of all trades & master of a couple, Jarrod started his footy career as a gangly ruck after a growth spurt catapulted him to the lofty heights of 177cm as a 12-year-old. Forward pocket off the bench was where he ended up as he topped out at 178cm eight years later. The trajectory of a career in health fortunately didn't peak during the pre-teen years & a keen interest in footy has turned from playing to coaching, volunteering and writing.

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