EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Fiji has picked three uncapped players to start and six more in the reserves to face Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup playoffs in Edinburgh on Saturday.
Fiji’s participation was in doubt after its three group matches against France, Italy and Scotland were all canceled after the coronavirus spread among 29 players and management in the tour party.
But everyone finally tested negative and the team returned to training last Friday at its French base. They play Georgia in the playoff for seventh-eighth place at Murrayfield.
"We are stronger,” coach Vern Cotter said on Thursday.
"We missed 10 days but when we look at each other now, you can see the message passing in everybody's eyes that we have been through something difficult and the health of our players was paramount from the start.
"I think we need to recognize that this hasn't been easy for the players and if they get out on the field to play this weekend, it’s an achievement just on itself.”
Cotter's first and last Fiji selection of the year since he was appointed as coach in January stuck close to his picks for the first canceled match against France on Nov. 15.
Flankers Johnny Dyer of Biarritz and Mesulame Kunavula of Edinburgh, along with Lyon lock Temo Mayanavanua will debut.
There could be first caps off the bench for Suva hooker Tevita Ikanivere, Bay of Plenty prop Haereiti Hetet, New York prop Samuela Tawake, Naitasiri lock Chris Minimbi, Nadroga flanker Manueli Ratuniyarawa and Tailevu scrumhalf Simione Kuruvoli.
The halves remained Frank Lomani and Ben Volavola, and Nemani Nadolo was back on the left wing and assisting Volavola with the kicking.
Josua Tuisova was on the right wing, and Levani Botia and captain Semi Radradra in midfield.
"We have a very established backline who have played together for many tests and I expect them to be lethal if given quality possession,” Cotter said.
Georgia made three changes after its best performance yet in losing to Ireland 23-10 last weekend in Dublin.
Tornike Jalagonia is at No. 8 for his fourth cap after Beka Gorgadze injured a knee against Ireland. Otar Giorgadze moved into blindside flank. Lock Kote Mikautadze was recovered from a rib injury, and Sandro Todua was on the left wing where he started against Wales.
The incoming Giorgadze, Mikautadze and Todua share almost 180 caps.
"We are delighted that the Fiji game is going ahead,” attack coach Neil Doak said.
“We've had a really productive month and improved our collective understanding and competitiveness each game. We want to finish the tournament with a really positive performance and show that we've really grown up as a squad.”
Georgia: Soso Matiashvili, Akaki Tabutsadze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Merab Sharikadze (captain), Sandro Todua, Tedo Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Tornike Jalagonia, Beka Saginadze, Otar Giorgadze, Kote Mikautadze, Lasha Jaiani, Beka Gigashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Mikheil Nariashvili. Reserves: Jaba Bragvadze, Guram Gogichashvili, Giorgi Melikidze, Grogol Kerdikoshvili, Mikheil Gachechiladze, Gela Aprasidze, Demur Tapladze, Davit Niniashvili.
Fiji: Kini Murimurivalu, Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra, Levani Botia, Nemani Nadolo, Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani; Albert Tuisue, Mesulame Kunavula, Johnny Dyer, Temo Mayanavanu, Tevita Ratuva, Mesake Doge, Samuel Matavesi, Peni Ravai. Reserves: Tevita Ikanivere, Haereiti Hetet, Samuela Tawake, Chris Minimbi, Manueli Ratuniyarawa, Simione Kuruvoli, Seru Vularika, Waisea Nayacalevu.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports