The final Pacific Conference match of Pacific Nations Cup 2014 will see Fiji host Samoa in Suva on Saturday 21 June to determine who will finish as the top side in the region.
Both teams have performed well in recent weeks with Fiji moving up one place in the IRB World Rankings to 10th following good wins over Italy (25-14) and Tonga (45-17) this month. Samoa, who drew against Tonga 18-all and defeated Italy 15-0 last week, also climbed up a spot to 9th.
The last time the two teams met was at PNC 2012 in Tokyo when Samoa edged Fiji 29-26. However, in 2011 in Suva, Fiji won 36-18. So it is all to play for and pride is at stake in what locals are describing as the ‘Battle of the Pacific.”
Cook Islands countdown
For Fiji the match is the last run out before it takes on the Cook Islands in Lautoka on 28 June. The winner will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Oceania 1 to join England, Wales, Australia, and the Repechage winner in Pool A. Samoa have already qualified and will play in Pool B with South Africa, Scotland, USA and Japan.
The Flying Fijians are expecting a physical examination by the Samoan forwards and coach John McKee said the players were eager to “counter their physicality with some physicality of our own.”
“Looking at Samoa’s game last week, they are a very physical team and it’s going to be tough battling them, particularly upfront and around the ruck areas,” McKee said. “We have to be really smart on how we play the game around those areas.” “If I was playing against Fiji, I would be looking to take it on in the forwards as well because our strength is in the backs. They are probably wary of our speed outside so they will want to try to close the game down.”
McKee rates Samoa a stronger side than Tonga and declared he would scale down their training to ensure the players recovered properly for the upcoming clash. “I think the Samoans have got a stronger team from 1 to 23 than Tonga,” he added. “This week we will probably be doing less work than we did in the first two weeks because we have got all that training behind us, so it allows us to get through the work we need to do but also freshen up.”
Back row reshuffle
The Fiji pack has been tweaked slightly from the Tonga match with captain Akapusi Qera moving from number 8 back to openside in place of Malakai Ravulo who goes to the bench. With Nemani Nagusa off the bench at No.8 and Brive’s Dominiko Waqaniburotu at blindside it is the back row that finished the Tonga match.
Behind the scrum there are three changes as right wing Napolioni Nalaga replaces Watisoni Votu, centre Asaeli Tikoirotuma replaces Adriu Delai in midfield while full back Metuisela Talebula moves off the bench to replace Timoci Negusa. With the presence of centre Nemani Nadolo and left wing Sireli Bobo, and with the in-form Nikola Matawalu orchestrating tactics at scrum half the Fiji three-quarter line looks formidable.
It’s simple for Samoa
Samoa is expected to deliver a much-improved showing in its second match of the Pacific Nations Cup competition. Coach Stephen Betham has made four adjustments to the team that beat Italy last week with the run-on XV comprising professional players all from overseas clubs.
The backline again includes the Northampton Saints trio of scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i, centre George Pisi and full back Faatoina Autagavaia and quietly Betham will be confident his backs can match their Fijian counterparts.
Upfront the propping department is sizeable and includes Logovii Mulipola (Leicester Tigers), James Johnston (Saracens), Anthony Perenise (Bath) and Census Johnston (Toulouse).
It is set to be match of contrasts. Fiji will want to play a match that allows it to use the width of the field and minimises scrum set pieces whenever possible. On the other hand coach Betham will try to avoid a match that is too open and the aim will be to keep it simple with set piece dominance.
“We have a lot of professional players. But sometimes they tend to overcomplicate things. We have had a long talk and have tried to simplify things,” Betham said. “Hopefully this works this Saturday, because as coaches we can’t be on the park to tell them to do this and that. It will be up to the game drivers and its team work that controls the game on the day and hopefully they do it right.
“Every game against Fiji in Fiji will always be a physical encounter. I think Fiji have performed really well in the past two games, and we know that until now Fiji has prepared better than us,” added Betham.
USA v Canada
In the second match of this weekend’s Pacific Nations Cup 2014 schedule Canada will attempt to defend a seven-match unbeaten run when they take on North American border rivals USA at Bonney Field, Sacramento.
Canada took all three of the two teams’ meetings last year, including a two-leg IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier series win in Charleston and Toronto. Canada also won the first match of a new-look IRB Pacific Nations Cup last year in Edmonton.
Last weekend USA lost 37-29 in their 2014 Pacific Nations Cup opener against Japan, putting in an encouraging performance which featured three tries for Californian home boy Blaine Scully,while Canada go into the fixture off the back of two narrow defeats, 19-17 v Scotland and 34-25 v Japan.