The Oceania Cup builds to a climax on Saturday when New Caledonia take on Niue in the final at the Riviere salee Stadium in Noumea.
This year's competition featured the six unions classed as development rugby nations by FORU, the Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions: Niue, New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
Next year the tournament will act as the regional qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2011, the winner going on to play Samoa for the region's one remaining place - New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Tonga have all qualified by virtue of their pool performances at the 2007 event - but this year's event offers an interesting form guide ahead of that crucial sequence of matches in 2009.
"We've had some surprises this year," said Will Glenwright, the IRB's General Manager for the region. "Niue beating the Cook Islands probably goes down as a surprise, as does New Caledonia's win against Vanuatu, which can only be good for rugby in the region.
"It's also important because it's the one time of the year when they all do get to play test match rugby against each other, which contributes to IRB World Ranking points."
The tournament represents a challenge for these unions and the players involved for a number of reasons. Firstly, the vast majority are amateur players and rugby is still an amateur sport in all of the countries, which are widely dispersed, not only from each other, but also in terms of the individual islands that make many of them up.
The Spirit of Rugby
Papua New Guinea, for example, is a vast country without paved roads meaning that many of the players have to either fly or walk great distances to reach a mode of transport which allows them to assemble for training or for matches in the capital Port Moresby.
Similar difficulties face the inhabitants of Vanuatu, New Caledonia or the masses of islands that make up the Cooks and inevitably, the time taken to reach the rest of the squad eats into the number of hours which the players have together before a match.
"To go to New Caledonia, the Papua New Guinea team was scheduled to go from Port Moresby to Brisbane, Brisbane to Auckland and then Auckland to New Caledonia, fifty-two hours all in all," said Glenwright.
"They are amateurs too, so that all eats into their time with their families and also often takes them away from the farm or their main source of income," said Glenwright, "so it is a major sacrifice but it's a very unique tournament in that regard.
"I think that the sacrifices that the players and their families make to play in the event is a wonderful advertisement for rugby and the spirit that rugby's played in."
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