Fiji will play England in the opening game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup after they demolished the Cook Islands 108-6 in Saturday’s final Oceania regional qualifying match, running in 17 tries in the process.
The Fijians will make a seventh World Cup appearance in eight tournaments, with their reward on this occasion being a place in Pool A alongside England, Australia, Wales and another qualifier yet to be decided.
They will also have the honour of opening the 2015 Rugby World Cup alongside England at Twickenham next year.
The Cook Islands, on the other hand, have never made an appearance at the World Cup before, but despite being ranked 46 in the world and having only 500 registered players, they maintained their ambitious hopes of qualifying for the first time when they led 6-5 after 27 minutes, albeit due to several handling errors by the Fijians.
However, when passes began to stick and their giant ball-runners began to combine in thrilling attacks, Fiji's superiority became immediately obvious and they added four tries in 13 minutes to lead 29-6 at halftime.
It was when the players came back out after the break that the floodgates began to open, with the favourites crossing the whitewash 13 more times. When the Fijians passed 90 points, they had inflicted the Cook's heaviest ever international defeat, before going on to add two late tries to add insult to injury.
Centre Nemani Nadolo scored three tries, while Matuisela Talebula, Adriu Delai, Nikola Matawalu and Timoci Nagusa all ran in twice.
Speaking after the match, the Cook Islands captain - Stade Francais prop Stan Wright - said his team gave their all but they were simply outclassed by a Fijian side who were bigger, stronger, faster and more experienced.
"As you can see by the scoreline it was a hard game and we were simply outclassed by a better side," Wright was quoted by Sky Sports.
"The gap between the elite and us showed out there today and we've got quite a bit of ground to cover to get up to their level.
"We're not a big nation and we need more guys putting their hands up to play for the Cook Islands because we lack depth and we need more players."
Fiji captain Akapusi Qera admitted that he had expected the Cook Islands to put up a stiff opposition in the first quarter of the match.
"We knew the Cook Islands would come at us in the forwards in the first 20 minutes, we expected that and we managed to compensate and come out with the win," he said.
"It's a big game for us as a team and as a nation. It's a big thing for a rugby player growing up to qualify for the Rugby World cup and that's what motivated us in the second half."
All but two of the teams for next year's World Cup have now been decided, with the remaining two places being filled from any of the African nations, Russia, Uruguay or Hong Kong, with one of the places guaranteed to be filled by an African team.
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