This year's ANZ Pacific Nations Cup will crown a new
champion as Fiji, Tonga, hosts Samoa and Asian Five Nations
champions Japan look to win the title.
The fifth edition of the IRB-funded tournament gets underway in Lautoka on 12 June at 15:10 local time, with Japan taking on Fiji, and the penultimate tournament before the Rugby World Cup 2011 will be a testing ground for many players.
Providing vital preparation for each of the participating Unions as they build towards next year in New Zealand, the tournament began in 2006 as part of the $50million global strategic investment programme and will continue to excite with some of the best talent on show.
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Players taking part in last month's Pacific Rugby Cup, won by the Fiji Warriors, have set the platform for the PNC and the 2010 tournament, but last year's champions, the Junior All Blacks, are not participating.
The two-week competition will deliver an unprecedented boost to the Samoan Rugby Community, however, with all but the opening match taking place at the Apia Stadium in Samoa, including the hosts first match against Tonga at 15:10 local time.
Fiji v Japan
In the first match of the 2010 tournament Fiji take on A5N
champions, Japan, a match that provided one of the highlights last
year when the two sides played out a pulsating finale, with Fiji
narrowly winning 40-39 in the dying seconds.
The victory was Fiji's ninth over the Cherry Blossoms in 11 meetings and coach Sam Domoni will be looking to continue the record having made nine changes from the team that lost to Australia 49-3 last weekend.
New Zealand-based Dominiko Waqaniburotu will skipper the side in only his second match, having made his debut last weekend, and believes possession will be the key factor in the match.
"They are a good side and they proved that last year," said the captain. "They will not come quietly but we will try and match them. We will do the basics and the aim will be to win possession. We will give it our best shot and try our best to do Fiji proud."
Japan coach John Kirwan believes the opening match is the
perfect curtain raiser for fans which will display fast-paced rugby
from both sides.
"We want to play the Japanese style of rugby on Saturday so we will throw the ball around," said the former All Black winger.
"This will be similar to the game last year in Suva and the 2007 Rugby World Cup when Japan played Fiji. Both were great games of rugby and we are hoping for a great game again, but we want to play our style.
"I want the fans to enjoy the rugby. There will two
different styles on display that will make for good rugby. Everyone
went away from last year's game satisfied that the two teams
played rugby. Obviously we lost but if we can play right there to
the very end and everyone plays to their ability then the result
does not really matter."
Samoa v Tonga
Samoa and Tonga play their opening match the same day in Apia at 15:10 local time with five of the host's IRB Sevens World Series winning side included in the squad for the match.
Lolo Lui and IRB Sevens Player of the Year Mikaele Pesamino have been handed starting berths, whilst Alafoti Fa'osiliva, Uale Mai and Fautua Otto are all named on the bench.
Coach Fuimaono Tafua said his squad selection was difficult to make but it contains a mixture of youth and experience, with one eye on the country's Northern Hemisphere tour at the end of the year.
The side also includes four Super 14 players, however, Anthony Perenise, Junior Poluleuligaga, George Pisi and Paul Williams, as well as London Wasps' David Lemi and London Irish's George Stowers.
"There were a number of players unavailable for selection due to injuries and contractual obligations otherwise we casted our net globally," said Tafua.
Tonga coach and former All Black Isitolo Maka is confident his side can deliver, however, and he has included brothers Daniel and Kurt Morath at scrum and fly-half respectively to attempt to beat Samoa in the PNC for the first time.
"It's been just a few weeks since the team was selected
and some of the players have contracts for overseas clubs - so
it's not just locals that will come face to face with the Manu
this Saturday," Maka said.
Fiji squad: Jaoji Dakuvula, Timoci Naqusa, Ropate Ratu, Iliesa Keresoni, Nemani Nasiganiyavi, Jonetani Ralulu, Nikola Matawalu; Campese Ma'afu, Vili Veikoso, Alefoso Yalayalatabua, Seko Qaraniqio, Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), Rupeni Nasiga, Jimilai Naikadawa, Kelepi Ketedromo
Reserves: Tuapati Talemaitoga, Graham Dewes, Anthony Wise, Samu Bola, Emosi Vucago, Malakai Bakaniceva, Epeli Ruivadra
Japan squad: Kaoru Matsushita, Alisi Tupuailei, Koji Taira, Ryan Nicholas, Kosuke Endo, Shaun Webb, Fumiaki Tanaka; Hisateru Hirashima, Shota Horie, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hitoshi Ono, Luke Thompson, Micheal Leitch, Touetsu Taufa, Takashi Kikutani (c),
Reserves: Hiroki Yuhara, Naoki Kawamata, Toshizumi Kitagawa, Ryukoliniasi Holani, Koji Wada, James Arlidge, Hirotoki Onozawa.
Samoa squad: Paul Williams, Mikaele Pesamino, George Pisi, Jamie Helleur, David Lemi, Lolo Lui, Junior Poluleuligaga; Anthony Perenise, Mahonri Schwalger, Sakaria Taulafo, Filipo Lavea Levi, Kane Thompson, Iosefa Tekori, Falemiga Selesele, George Stowers
Reserves: Andrew Williams, James Afoa, Manaia Salave'a, Alafoti Faosiliva, Uale Mai, Fautua Otto, Uarotafou Setu
Tonga squad: Vungakoto Lilo, Alaska Taufa, Saia Fekitoa, Andrew Ma'ilei, Manu Ahotaeiloa, Kurt Morath, Daniel Morath; Toma Toke, Aleki Lutui (c), Pa'alo'i Taula, Akameta Feao, Alepini Olosoni, Kelepi Halafihi, Paula Kata
Reserves: Sione Vaiomounga, Sione Fukofuka, Sitiveni Mafi, Atunaisa Sikalu, Samisoni Fisilau, Fangatapu Apikotoa, Alipate Fatafehi