Fiji got their match preparations for Rugby World Cup 2023 underway with a 36-20 home win over Tonga in Lautoka on Saturday, but this opening round PNC success wasn’t the only talking point as head coach Simon Raiwalui confirmed afterwards that Peceli Yato had quit the squad and won’t feature at the finals in France.

The 30-year-old veteran of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups had been training with the squad until early this week when he quit ahead of what was Fiji’s only home match in 2023. Yato was the player who made headlines in 2019 when on the receiving end of a crunching Reece Hodge tackle which resulted in a citing and suspension for the Australian winger.

A report on FBC News, the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation, read: “The Fiji Water Flying Fijians will be going to the Rugby World Cup without one of their key and senior players Peceli Yato. Coach Simon Raiwalui has confirmed that Yato removed himself from the camp earlier this week.

The Nadroga man trained with the team at the Sigatoka sand dunes last weekend and was part of their training session on Monday. Raiwalui says Yato left the squad on his own accord. He adds they had a situation where Yato chose to leave the camp and they respect his decision.

“The national coach adds Yato led from the front in their past three weeks together. Raiwalui says at the moment no new players will be brought in to replace Yato.”

Yato is the second player in recent days to become unavailable to Fiji for World Cup selection. Seasoned lock Api Ratuniyarawa, who was left clubless when London Irish financially collapsed at the end of the 2022/23 season in England, has decided to take up an offer to join Bayonne in the Top 14 rather than stay and compete for a spot in the Fiji squad.

FBC explained: “Coach Simon Raiwalui says he had an emotional conversation with Ratuniyarawa. Raiwalui says sometimes in life, you have to make a decision about what’s best for the family. Last month Ratuniyarawa’s club London Irish was dissolved financially leaving around 100 players and staff jobless. Raiwalui says Ratuniyarawa will leave the squad on August 1.”