Little: Where was the Fiji style play?
Veteran flyhalf Nicky Little has blamed Fiji's failure at the Rugby World Cup on an intransigent management that enforced a style of play he described as "so not Fijian."
Little, who played at the World Cup for the fourth time in a 15-year career, said team members were unhappy off the field because of rigid management which banned swearing and forced players to attend two hour church services.
The 35-year-old told the Fiji Sun newspaper, "We were given a game plan that was so not Fijian. There's no excuse for not performing on the field but I know the boys could have been happier off it."
Fiji traveled to New Zealand with a coaching and management team of more than 19 people. Head coach Sam Domoni is deeply religious, has led prayer meetings on earlier tours and once tried to have Fiji's pre-match challenge banned as a relic of the nation's pre-Christian past.
"Those who were running the team on the field were torn between following orders and trying to make the best of a bad situation," Little told the Sun. "Fiji Rugby has had these weaknesses in our game for a long time.
"I also thought some officials thought players were there to pay them respects. Maybe not to us older guys but some younger members really got a hard time, which we joked about to ease the tension."
Fiji was drawn in the hardest pool at the World Cup, alongside reigning champion South Africa, Wales and Pacific Island rival Samoa. It won only one match, its opener against Namibia, and was well beaten in the others. Fiji left the tournament after a 66-0 loss to Wales, its worst World Cup defeat.
"No one is more disappointed than us, the players," Little said. "After 15 years of service to Fiji Rugby I know the boys work better when they're happy. Too bad though!"
Little said the Fiji team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2007 World Cup in France was much happier.
"We were more honest to each other, more organized and happy off the field. We knew what our job was," he said. "But this year we weren't allowed to swear or shout at each other so as to not hurt feelings, so our bad habits were glossed over which only bred more of the same.
"I felt the rugby took a second seat. The management preached unity but at the expense of freedom."
Little said team management refused to listen to players' concerns.
"I was asked by the team to query management about some two-hour church sessions and why the dory-dirties (players not involved in the next match) must stay in (the hotel) but ironically I was told that it was a team call," he said. "They weren't moving on their decisions.
"I don't blame them. The management don't have my knowledge of touring, that's OK, but to not listen was quite infuriating."
The Fiji Rugby Union spent two days this week interviewing players, coaches and management over causes of the team's failure. A decision on the future of Domoni as head coach is expected next week.