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Rugby World Cup 2023: Levani Botia On Fiji’s Quarter-Final Against England4 min read

Rugby World Cup 2023: Levani Botia On Fiji’s Quarter-Final Against England<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">4</span> min read</span>

Levani Botia prepares to tackle a Portugal player

Levani Botia (right) is competing at his third Rugby World Cup

When Fiji’s Levani Botia was young, he would climb mountains to watch his country play rugby.

That is not a metaphor. Growing up, Botia had a generator for electricity at home and would haul it to a high spot in search of reception for his television.

“Rugby is like something that goes through our blood, it does not matter your age,” he says.

“We just climbed the mountain.”

Now known as the ‘Demolition Man’, Botia’s journey to becoming one of his team’s star players has not always been straightforward.

He was working as a prison officer and went from playing on the wardens’ team to becoming part of Fiji’s sevens squad.

The now 34-year-old made the switch to 15-a-side at the end of 2013 and joined French club La Rochelle the following year, helping them to promotion and sticking around ever since.

“I think that’s what rugby gave to me, it took me somewhere I didn’t expect to be,” reflects Botia.

“I didn’t expect to be working in a prison. It’s something that helps me on the rugby field. I know when things are hard, I think about when I started.”

Levani Botia catches the ball in the air
Levani Botia (pictured here playing in 2012) represented Fiji in sevens before switching to 15s

Having played in two previous World Cups at centre, Botia has been causing damage from the back row this time around.

His threat at the breakdown is such that England have called up Sam Underhill supposedly just so he can do his best Botia impression in training to prepare team-mates for what is to come.

Fiji forwards coach Graham Dewes – whose late try against Wales helped Fiji to their last World Cup quarter-final in 2007 – praised Botia’s poaching ability.

“The good thing about Levani is, it’s very important but he picks and chooses,” Dewes explains.

“It’s not like he attacks the ruck every time. When the opportunity arises, the Demolition Man will probably be there.”

Botia played down his talents, adding: “What I do in the field, people say it’s hard, but nothing’s hard. Anyone can do that.

“If you play rugby you can do it, it’s not difficult.”

The Fijian has helped La Rochelle to two Champions Cup titles and now turns his attention to taking his country to a first World Cup semi-final.

He says Sunday’s knockout fixture in Marseille is “one of the lifetime games”.

The match against England will be Fiji’s first World Cup quarter-final appearance since 2007, when they lost 37-20 to South Africa in the same stadium that will host them on Sunday.

As well as playing for history, Dewes says his players will be fighting for team-mates who are “hurting” after two family bereavements in the squad.

Josua Tuisova’s seven-year-old son died before Fiji played Georgia in the pool stage and Sam Matavesi is expected back in camp having returned to England following the death of his father.

“In our team we love each other so much,” Dewes said.

“Sam will come back into camp so we’ll get around him. Those things will help motivate us. Those are the little things, well actually big things, that will help motivate us.”

Dewes says there is a “big belief” in a squad that is aiming to “bypass” the achievements of the 2007 team.

Fiji claimed a first win against England at Twickenham in August and beat Australia for the first time at a World Cup earlier in this tournament.

Dewes says the Twickenham win “has given us a lot of confidence”, adding: “For us now, it is do or die. We go hard at the weekend or we are going home early.

“I think Fiji on its day is capable of shocking the world. We’ve done it in the past, and if we stick to our gameplan, then we’ll do it again.”

Botia and his team-mates will be playing for Pacific rugby history – and the flanker will be playing for those who, just like him, would climb a mountain to watch.

“I think if you ask any Fijian, playing rugby now or young kids back at home, everyone loves rugby,” he says.

“Back at home we’d sometimes try to play but didn’t have a rugby ball. So we’d use anything – empty bottles, some of us used a coconut or something, just to play rugby.

“It’s something we need to love, it’s our job. It’s something that brings us together.”