Manu Samoa and Fijian players pray after the PNC final in Burnaby, BC last Tuesday. Photo: World Rugby
The Flying Fijians preparing for the Rugby World Cup has the potential to break into the next level for the first time, earning a semi-final berth in England.
The road there is maybe the most difficult in terms of the opponents lined up against them but the coaching staff and players which assembled last month and the gelling of the team during the Pacific Nations Cup is phenomenal.
Coach John McKee has no qualms about the taking up the challenge being the most adeptly prepared for the mission but at the same time perplexed at the enormity of the task.
Fiji celebrates 39-29 win against Manu Samoa in PNC final in British Columbia. Photo: World Rugby
Fiji sent out a Rugby World Cup warning to their Pool A rivals England, Australia, Wales and Uruguay after a ruthless display of finishing saw them claim the Pacific Nations Cup 2015 title at the expense of rivals Samoa.
Fiji defeated Samoa 39-29 in a thrilling final at the Swangard Stadium in Burnaby to claim their second Pacific Nations Cup crown and head into RWC 2015 full of confidence
Second-rower Leone Nakawara grabbed two of his side’s five tries with the others coming from influential scrum-half Niko Matawalu, Kini Murimurivalu and Akapusi Qera in a see-saw contest that saw Fiji race into a 17-3 lead before being reeled back in by Samoa. But just as the physical Samoans appeared to have taken control of the contest, Fiji came storming back with three quickfire tries that saw them reclaim the initiative and pull clear.
Manu Samoa launch another attack against Canada at the BMO Field in Toronto. Photo: World Rugby
Samoa and Fiji will meet again in the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2015 final after both maintained their unbeaten records with tight victories over hosts Canada and Japan in Toronto on Wednesday.
The Samoans needed a try on the stroke of full-time by Sakaria Taulafo to snatch a 21-20 victory over Canada, the replacement prop catching a loose ball off a ricochet from a lineout to dive over and secure the final place.
Fiji, who had played out a thrilling 30-30 draw with Samoa in round two, had to hang on for a 27-22 victory against Japan, finishing the match with only 13 players as the Brave Blossoms came within inches of completing their comeback with another try.
Fiji’s lock Leone Nakarawa in full cry against the Tongans at the ANZ Stadium in Suva. Photo: World Rugby
Fiji’s draw against Samoa at Bonney Field in Sacramento last week, on neutral soil, had only minimal impact on the World Rugby rankings with Samoa losing less than a tenth of a rating point and Fiji gaining the same.
This means the two Pacific Island rivals are now separated by only 0.55 points going into the final round of pool matches on Wednesday. Fiji is in tenth position behind Samoa who is ahead in the ninth spot.
The only way Fiji could beat their Pacific Island neighbor in the world rankings is to make it to the finals and beat Samoa in that match that is scheduled for Monday at the Swanguard Stadium in Burnaby, east of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Gabiriele Lovobalavu attacks against Samoa. Photo: World Rugby
A late penalty from Patrick Faapale gave Samoa a 30-30 draw against Fiji after they battled back in the Pacific Nations Cup.
The game in Sacramento looked to be heading Fiji’s way when they led 27-10, but just as they did against the Maori All Blacks, the Flying Fijians ran out of steam in the second half.
First-half tries from Leone Nakarawa, twice, and Metuisela Talebula gave Fiji a 17-10 lead at the break, with Paul Perez crossing for Samoa.
Italian fullback Andrea Masi is tackled by a Samoan player. Photo: Planet Rugby
Italy came from 3-10 down at half-time to defeat Samoa 24-13 in their November Test at Stadio Cino e Lilio Del Duca in Ascoli.
New Zealand-born fly-half Kelly Haimona kicked 14 points to inspire Italy to the hard-fought win as they ended a nine-match string of defeats.
Kolinisau will skipper the Fiji team. Photo: IRB
Ben Ryan has named four new players in his squad for the first round of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Australia.
Eminoni Nasilasila, Apisai Naqaliva, Sanivalati Ramuwai and Savenaca Rawaca will all make their debut for Fiji in Australia.
“All these players are going to make their debut, they’re not there to make up the numbers but they’re there to make an impact,” said Ryan.
Fiji squad: Apisai Domolailai, Semi Kunatani, Jasa Veremalua, Setefano Cakau, Isake Katonibau, Apisai Naqaliva, Emosi Mulevoro, Osea Kolinisau, Eminoni Nasilasila, Sanivalati Ramuwai, Savenaca Rawaca, Apisalome Waqatabu