With five of the nine IRB Pacific Rugby Cup Rounds completed the Fiji Warriors have emerged as the team to beat after impressive form in Australia and New Zealand. The Warriors have won four of their five matches so far and head into their sixth match on Saturday against a Chiefs Development side in Te Kuiti, New Zealand, full of confidence.
Funded by the IRB, this player development competition pits the very best up and coming locally-based talent from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga against the next generation of Super Rugby stars in Australia and New Zealand. Now in its second year of this new format the inaugural tournament was won by the Warriors who edged out Samoa A, and the same two look set to fight it out for the 2012 title.
This year, the Warriors lost their very first match of the Cup in a hard fought battle at Ballymore in Brisbane against a Queensland A side 24-36 but have recovered to record four straight victories. Two further wins in Australia over the Brumby Runners and Junior Waratahs was followed by two victories in New Zealand against Crusader Knights and Blues Development.
The Round 5 victory over Blues Development was particularly impressive given winning in Auckland is never easy and the fact that the Warriors struggled in New Zealand last year. The Blues fielded All Black prop Tony Woodcock who was returning from injury but the form of the Warriors, and their rivals Samoa A, is an encouraging sign that the IRB strategic investment programme is on track and leading to greater consistency and competitiveness.
Warriors coach Inoke Male stated after his side’s win against Blues Development, “I’m delighted how far we’ve progressed in this tournament and I’m particularly pleased with the way the team has responded after the opening round loss to Queensland. The fact the players we have are all born, bred and raised within Fiji reflects the increasing standard of rugby in the island and the Pacific Rugby Cup tournament is an excellent competition in terms of developing our local players to meet the standards required to step up into top international rugby.”
He added, “Judging by results we’ve probably got our toughest match this Saturday against the Chiefs Development who put an incredible 71 points past previously unbeaten Samoa A. However there’s no doubt we’re up to it. We’ve arguably got the best defensive game of any team in this competition and coupled with our natural attacking instincts I think we could be in for a real cracker against the Chiefs.”
Samoa A was impressive in Australia winning all of their matches against Brumby Runners, Junior Waratahs and Queensland A. However, it found the opposition much tougher in New Zealand. Samoa A lost its opening match at Pukekohe 17-71 against a Chiefs Development XV, but showed better from in Dunedin before being edged out 39-27 by the Highlanders Development team.
Tonga A has yet to record a win but has still been very competitive and was not helped by its third round match against the Brumby Runners in Griffith being cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.
The IRB is committed to the development of Rugby throughout the Pacific Islands in order to increase competitiveness and in 2012 is investing over NZ$7 million in direct financial assistance to the Pacific Islands across four main areas: High Performance, development, competitions and administration. This is all possible because of the commercial revenues raised by Rugby World Cup.
Critically the investment includes a commitment to ensure that the Pacific Islands have the appropriate competition models that meet their high performance needs. The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup has continually evolved to achieve just that and leads nicely into the Pacific Nations Cup which this year takes place in Japan in June.
The High Performance investment has allowed the IRB to establish full-time Academies in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, with the latter having a state-of-the-art High Performance Centre. These Academies provide a daily training environment for elite and potentially elite players, match officials and coaches to obtain scholarships and train in world-class facilities under word-class coaches who are employed full-time.