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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 06:30 GMT 07:30 UK
Fiji's French faux pas
Fiji are one of the world's leading lights at sevens, but in the 15-man game they have been more readily labelled as also-rans.

Nowhere is that more apparent than at the World Cup.

They played their first international in 1924, a 6-0 victory over Samoa, and more than 60 years later were invited to the inaugural tournament.

While the Samoans stayed at home, their South Sea neighbours played with pride and panache in reaching the quarter-finals.

Fiji bow out of the 1999 Rugby World Cup
Played 11 - W:3 L:11
1987: Quarter-finals
1991: Pool stage
1999: Quarter-final play-off

They emerged from the tournament with great credit.

Despite shipping more than 70 points against New Zealand, a surprise win over Argentina and a narrow loss to Italy saw them qualify for the knock-out stages - but only just.

A countback on the number of tries saw them qualify with six - one ahead of Italy.

But then came France - a recurring nightmare for Fiji at the World Cup.

They gave the eventual runners-up more than a scare with some inspired play, running with adventure and abandon, before injuries and fatigue took their toll.

Fiji were paired with France in the pool stages four years later when, having punched above their weight at the previous tournament, they fell short.

Defeat to France was predictable, but reverses against Romania and Canada saw them returning home in disgrace.

Rugby is the country's sporting passion, and if 1991 was unpalatable, 1995 was unbearable following Fiji's failure to qualify.

Fast forward to 1999 - and France again.

After wins over Namibia and Canada, Fiji met the French in Toulouse with the winners assured of a quarter-final berth in Dublin, the losers a play-off against England at Twickenham.

At 19-13 up against the misfiring French with 10 minutes remaining it looked as if the visitors would end as victors.

But after Fiji had absorbed seven minutes of French force on the line and eight re-set scrums, referee Paddy O'Brien answered the prayers of the partisan crowd and awarded a penalty try.

The tide had turned and while France went on to the final, Fiji were heading home four days later after losing to England.

Yet again, Fiji find themselves paired with the French in Australia.

Their meeting comes on the second day of the tournament in Brisbane and will go a long way to determining whether Fiji can relive the glory days of 1987 or fall short once again.

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