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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Form guide: Fiji
The Fijian team prepare to take on the Queensland Reds in a World Cup warm-up match
The Fijians have endured mixed pre-World Cup fortunes
Fiji qualified for the World Cup after finishing top of a three-team Oceania group completed by Tonga and Samoa.

But playing and beating South Sea neighbours is only a measure of relative strength.

The World Cup is the real deal, and Fiji have found the going harder against foes beyond the Pacific Islands since booking their passage to Australia in July 2002.

Three defeats on a tour to Britain later in the year certainly focused the mind and quelled qualification celebration.

Victory over Tonga in the final qualifying game by 27 points edged Fiji ahead of Samoa and paired them with France and Scotland on Queensland's Gold Coast come the cup competition.

FORM IN 2003
5 July: Fiji 34-31 Tonga
11 July: Tonga 23-22 Fiji
14 August: Uruguay 3-24 Fiji
24 August: Chile 16-41 Fiji

But for a late try by Vili Satala, they would have found themselves paired with England and South Africa.

Playing on the Gold Coast in similar conditions to Suva and facing Scotland, as opposed to rugby heavyweights, were all cause for celebration.

Until they played Scotland in November.

After heavy defeats to Wales and Ireland, Fiji were competitive and typically physical throughout, and but for the intervention of the video referee they would have enjoyed a lead after an hour's action.

However, it was not to be and defeat will have dented Fiji's confidence against World Cup opponents they know they must beat if they are to have any hope of qualifying.

And they will not have been boosted by performances this year against lowly international opposition.

Against Tonga, in a two-legged affair, they won the opener 34-31 before coming off second best in a 23-22 defeat the following weekend.

In the first tie, Fiji were far stronger, running in tries from Aisea Tuilevu and Sami Rabaka early on for a 15-0 lead.

They faced the first of two Tongan comebacks before Marika Vunibaka finished off some sublime running from the backs to score before setting up another.

Despite conceding two tries in a thrilling finale, they held on for the narrowest of wins, before the boot was on the other foot the following weekend.

Try: Sikoa
Penalty: Na I totogi
Tackle: Veivesu kaukauwa
Come on ref: Raica mada, daunivakatagisici
Cauliflower ears: Daliga levu

Having trailed throughout, only the introduction of Waisale Serevi in the 70th minute gave the visitors some belated impetus with Tuilevu notching his ninth try in 13 Tests.

Nicky Little converted his effort to move within a point but they missed the chance to win the match when Moses Rauluni fluffed a pass to Serevi, who had been primed for a decisive drop-goal.

World Cup preparations continued with an unbeaten three-match provincial tour of New Zealand, before the squad decamped to South America.

A comfortable win over Uruguay was followed by a more testing challenge against Argentina.

Both Little and Serevi had a part to play as the Fijians surprised the Pumas with a sharp performance but it was not enough to overcome their hosts who put on a dominant performance up front.

An easy win over Chile followed, but Argentina apart, Fiji have not played teams against whom they can realistically measure their World Cup ambitions.

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