Fiji Warriors will begin their quest for a fourth successive IRB Pacific Rugby Cup crown this weekend against Queensland A at Ballymore, one of three matches in the opening round of the Australian series of the competition.
The first of three series sees the A teams of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga tackle the development teams of three of Australia’s Super Rugby franchises in the Brumby Runners, Junior Waratahs and Queensland A teams over three rounds.
The three teams then move on to New Zealand for a further three rounds which, unlike last year, will feature the development teams from all five of the country’s Super Rugby franchises, before climaxing with a Pacific series later in the year.
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This year the Warriors have enjoyed a quieter build up to the Pacific Rugby Cup than their Samoan and Tongan rivals, who have both been in Australia playing trial matches against the NSW Waratahs.
Samoa A, who also faced Sydney University, found a Waratahs side featuring a number of Wallabies – including Berrick Barnes and Lachie Turner – too hot to handle but trainer Dave Edgar could still find plenty of positives.
“The level at which the game was played was a step up for our boys and they were exposed to a type of professional rugby that we need to constantly be striving for – fast, quick tempo, dynamic with ongoing decision making required,” said Edgar.
A sentiment echoed by head coach Fepuleai Selafuti: “It’s important to win, but I would like to stay focused on moving the players forward and building on the challenge of developing the players toward the next Rugby World Cup.
“The Pacific Rugby Cup is the best opportunity for international exposure, and the best chance to be tested against Super Rugby franchise teams in New Zealand and Australia. The PRC is the local player’s platform to the Manu Samoa team.”
From PRC to RWC 2011
Samoa A, who finished runners up in 2011 after losing to both Fiji Warriors and Tonga A in the Pacific series, have the honour of opening the 2012 competition, against the Brumby Runners at Canberra Stadium on Friday.
The Brumby Runners were the only Australian side to avoid defeat in the new-look competition last year, a draw with Tonga A denying them a clean sweep, and will be keen to get off to a winning start against the Samoans.
The opening round continues on Sunday when Tonga A tackle the Junior Waratahs at Foreshaw Rugby Park in Sydney and the defending champions face Queensland A in Brisbane.
The Pacific Rugby Cup is a key development tool for the International Rugby Board, enabling locally based players in the Pacific Islands to test themselves against the rising stars of the Game in Australia and New Zealand and bridging the gap from domestic rugby to the Test arena.
A number of players who helped Fiji Warriors secure the title last year went on to appear at Rugby World Cup 2011, including Campese Ma’afu, Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Waisale Nailago, the latter making his Test debut in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup in July.
Viliame Iongi was another to play in last year’s competition, although not for Tonga A but the Brumby Runners. Iongi went on to make his Test debut in the Churchill Cup, enjoying a dream start with four tries against the USA Eagles.
A "great opportunity" for Australia
It is not only the Pacific Island nations that benefit from the competition with Australian Rugby Union High Performance Manager David Nucifora acknowledging its value in developing both young players and those just below Super Rugby.
“The Pacific Rugby Cup offers these players the chance to gain invaluable international playing experience against what will be strong opposition in the Island nations’ representative sides,” explained Nucifora.
“This competition bodes well for us, as it provides all involved with further development opportunities for their players and offers valuable match practice at a critical time of the year for our FxPro Super Rugby teams.
“It’s also a great opportunity for our talented players at the National Academy level to be given an opportunity to further develop their games and to work with the respective Australian FxPro Super Rugby teams during the programme.”
Another player to progress from the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2011 to the Test arena last year was Ben Tapuai, the Queensland Reds centre making his Test debut on Australia’s end of year tour to Wales.
“Thanks must go to the IRB for its continued support of this competition, as their funding and commitment to the development of the Game in the Pacific Islands region has ensured this series remains on the international Rugby calendar for another year,” added Nucifora.
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