Pacific Islands magic missing – and Rugby World Cup suffers

Tonga's early loss to Georgia set the tone for a disappointing opening phase to the Rugby World Cup by Pacific Islands teams.

Tonga’s early loss to Georgia set the tone for a disappointing opening phase to the Rugby World Cup by Pacific Islands teams.

The biggest disappointment from the opening phases of the Rugby World Cup has been the lack of impact from the Pacific Island teams.

A relieved Tonga are crowing about seeing off Namibia 35-21 in the latest island effort.

That’s mainly because it is an improvement on their first-round loss to Georgia.

But this Tongan outfit looks off the pace of the team that surprised at the last World Cup by beating eventual finalists France.

And that’s the main point here – island teams have traditionally sprung major surprises at World Cups to make the quarter-finals.

But a playoffs berth is looking increasingly unlikely for any of the three Pacific powerhouses on display in Britain.

And Japan and, to a lesser extent, Georgia have stolen the headlines from them as the darlings of the cup.

Samoa, as expected, did the business against the United States but were horribly exposed by a resurgent Springboks team.

Fiji proved competitive against England and Australia without really threatening to upset either tier-one nation.

Friday’s clash against Wales is Fiji’s last hope to stamp their mark on this tournament.

They have a history of causing the Welsh problems and a repeat would certainly cause further chaos in a pool of death that is already threatening to execute hosts England.

The Pacific Islands are endlessly under-resourced and will always cry poor with some justification.

But the reality is many of their players are rubbing shoulders with opponents they regularly compete against in European and Japanese professional club competitions.

Samoa pray after an international match. Photo: The Guardian UK

Samoa pray after an international match. Photo: The Guardian UK

There was a feeling that increasingly experienced squads would be able to compete in conditions they are now comfortable with.

There’s also a suspicion that rigid club environments might be coaching the flair out of these naturally-gifted athletes and that’s affecting their national teams.

The three sides didn’t lack for buildup. They were all involved in the Pacific Nations Cup on the eve of the World Cup.

Fiji won the Pacific Nations title but that has amounted to little over the past fortnight.

Fiji are now the only island team in the top 10 of the official world rankings.

They are 10th and on a slide. Samoa are 11thand Tonga 14th.

The World Cup is crying out for a late charge by the island teams.

If they can’t make the quarter-finals they need to be motivated by third-placed teams in each pool qualifying automatically for the next World Cup in Japan.

The Fijian player under the spotlight now is All Blacks import Waisake Naholo and his quest to overcome his fractured leg and make an impact at this tournament.

It’s a sign of the times that island players litter other national teams and there’s no end in sight for that unless there is a radical change of rulings from the sport’s bosses.

Pacific Islands rugby contributes hugely to the global game in so many ways, from the sheer size and power of their players to the free-flowing rugby they like to play.

Don’t forget the World Cup’s biggest star remains Jonah Lomu, a Tongan who got his chance with New Zealand and took it.

Maybe it’s too romantic, but it would be nice to see a player make a similar statement in the colours of his home country at this tournament.

World rugby needs Pacific power and this is the stage to display that.

Somewhere and somehow, over the next two weeks in England and Wales, that needs to surface.

Fijian firecrackers against Wales? A Samoan shock for the Scots? Tongans to terminate the Pumas?

It’s time for an upset.

 – Stuff

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