GOLD COAST, Australia- Olympic champions Fiji rampaged into the Commonwealth Games semi-finals on Saturday, inspired by a silent prayer rather than a snarling ‘haka’-style war dance.
The Pacific islanders finished on top of their pool on the Gold Coast with a 63-5 thrashing of Sri Lanka, followed by a 54-0 whitewash of Uganda and a come-from-behind 21-17 victory over Wales.
The team’s pre-game routine involves a huddle in the middle of the ground, where the players put one hand on a ball and look up to the sky as they offer a quiet prayer.
“It’s nothing political, nothing to offend anyone — it’s what we believe in,” captain Jerry Tuwai told AFP.
“It’s what gets us going when we are weak. Every time we do something good, or even bad, we thank the Lord.”
The Fijians may lack the high-end training facilities of their wealthier opponents, but the world-beaters are set apart by a fierce team spirit and guided by their deep faith.
The players write bible passages on their wrists before games to fire themselves up and there was a hint divine intervention in Tuwai’s desperate late tackle to deny Wales victory.
Fiji’s sevens, who recently won the prestigious Hong Kong crown to underline their title credentials, are back at the Commonwealth Games after a 12-year absence following a military coup in 2006.
They will be favourites to win a fourth Commonwealth title for the island nation and first since Nacanieli Qerewaqa’s judo gold in 2002.
Fiji’s rugby players took silver behind New Zealand in the inaugural Games sevens in 1998, once again in 2002 and finished with bronze at Melbourne in 2006.
Rugby is almost a religion in Fiji where previously national holidays have been declared in connection with the team’s World Cup progress.
“It’s the national sport, it’s the pride of Fiji,” said Tuwai, adding that the country comes to a halt when the national team plays.
“People will be glued to their TV screen and cheering us on.”
On the other side of the draw, England beat hosts Australia 26-17 to send the Olympic silver medallists into the semi-finals.
“England and Australia have a historic rivalry,” said England’s Alex Davis. “They always want to beat us and we always want to beat them for the bragging rights.”
England take on New Zealand in Sunday’s first semi-final before the mighty Fijians face South Africa.
In the women’s matches, New Zealand beat Canada 24-7 to book a semi-final spot against England, while Olympic champions Australia will meet Canada.