The Pacific nations are set to jet off to Japan with less than a month to go till the opening of the Rugby World Cup 2019. The entertainers of rugby, the South Sea Islanders are looking to once again set the Rugby World Cup stage ablaze.
Tonga, Samoa and Fiji were part of the Pasifika Challenge Event held at New Zealand rugby’s sacred ground, Eden Park last weekend.
Samoa and NZ team, the Heartland XV faced off in the first thrilling encounter, ending with a 36-19 victory to Manu Samoa. The Samoans dictated most of the passages in the game and a strong finish in the second half saw them scoring a total of five tries compared to 3 from their counterparts.
As coach Steve Jackson had mentioned ahead of the match: "We've named an exciting team and there's some guys out there that are going to be playing their first games so it's going to be great for them."
There were three debutants for Samoa, Crusaders tighthead prop Michael Alaalatoa and Southern Tornadoes Number eight Tofatuimoana Solia started in the line-up while Queensland Reds halfback Scott Malolua was among the reserves.
Seasoned at first five eight, Tusi Pisi proved to be decisive as always with Ed Fidow and Ahsee Tuala causing havoc on the wings. Tim Nanai Williams made a timely return to the side at fullback in the hopes of making the World Cup squad selection. He was also a huge factor in Samoa’s attacking game.
Captain and openside flanker Jack Lam led his troops from the get-go and put on a man of the match level performance. The 6.1 ft tall, 103 kg no.7 will be one of the players to watch during the Japan RWC 2019.
The second Pasifika Challenge clash was a tight contest between Tonga and Fiji at first, until the Fijians finally found their rhythm to finish the game 29-19 on top at full time.
Tonga started brilliantly with a tremendous try in the corner to Captain and outside center Siale Piutau to open the exchange, but Fiji immediately struck back with one of their own from Josua Tuisova.
The Tongan forwards were utilising the size and strength up front and the maul was working well for them as they scored one from a lineout drive. A try was awarded to hooker Paula Nagauamo, and was followed by another free-flowing passage and ridiculously good pass and support play by the Flying Fijians giving Vereniki Goneva a taste of the white chalk.
Fiji head coach John Mckee was particularly happy with his boy’s performance but still feel they still have a lot more to offer: “We worked very hard in our phase defence and at goal line defence at times. I think the players also made some good individual tackling in the game. We need to brush up on few areas; when executing the ball which was evident in the first-half.”
Other Fijians to score tries were Semi Kunatani, Captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Sam Matavesi. Tonga manage to get one back, but it was too little too late, as the deficit was too much with time running out.
The Tongans were awarded many penalties in the first stanza but fail to capitalise and convert those opportunities into points. They opted to kick for touch in all occasions. It was obvious that Tonga were not concerned in making easy points in the test match but were rather playing to find the right combination and improve their set pieces as they build up for Japan.
The test match was a stepping-stone to fine tune and brush up on team tactics despite the comments made by head coach Toutai Kefu earlier in the week. "We have our best team on the park, so we want to win. That's our goal”, he said. However, a change in tactics was very evident last Saturday in Auckland.
Tonga has one last test match against the All Blacks this coming weekend with Samoa also taking on the Wallabies to complete their RWC preparations.
Fiji issued their traditional farewell to President Hon. Joiji Konrote at the State House Conservatory today followed by a Sayonara Gala dinner at Sofitel, Denarau before departing for Japan on Friday.