IRB Pacific Nations CUP
Fiji and Samoa have set the early pace in the 2010 ANZ Pacific Nations Cup after recording hard fought victories in the first round of matches against Japan and Tonga respectively.
Fiji sit on top of the standings by virtue of point's differential after a 22-8 win over the Asian Five Nations champions at Churchill Park in Lautoka, the only match to be played outside of Apia in Samoa, whilst Samoa had to dig deep to win 24-23.
The results mean that Japan and Tonga will need to win their next round matches on 19 June to stand any chance of winning the title, but if Samoa and Fiji record victories they would meet in a title decider on 26 June.
Fiji and Samoa are also both in Pool D at next year's Rugby World Cup alongside South Africa, Wales and Namibia, and Tonga and Japan will also line up in the same pool alongside New Zealand, France and Canada in Pool B, so there will be a lot at stake in the last round of matches.
As part of each of the team's RWC preparations the tournament has allowed coaches to mix a blend of experience and youth and despite being laced with stars, it was several PNC debutants who stole the show for Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Japan.
Flanker Jim Naikadawa and full back Jaoji Dakuvula both showed excellent strength and composure for Fiji against Japan having been called into the squad following strong performances for the Warriors and the Barbarians respectively in an-all Fijian Pacific Rugby Cup final in May.
Several of Fiji's other players participated in the PRC final and made their PNC debuts including scrum half Nikola Matawalu who scored the hosts first try and has been tipped by many as the long term replacement for the retired Mosese Rauluni.
"This was my first game for Fiji so it was very special," said the 21-year-old.
"It is like any other ordinary rugby game but this was my first in the Flying Fijians jumper so it added something special. But it was certainly a step up from the Pacific Rugby Cup."
Samoa also included several PRC graduates, but it was their Sevens stars who demonstrated their class against Tonga with IRB Sevens Player of the Year and PNC debutant Mikaele Pesamino combining brilliantly with Uale Mai for their third try, and Lolo Lui kicking the decisive conversion.
Tonga's Kurt Morath, who made his debut last November and was playing in his first ever PNC match, put in a strong performance with his boot and could play a vital role for the Ikale Tahi this year outside his brother Daniel at fly half. Having kicked three penalties and two conversions, Morath is the leading points scorer after round one with 13 points.
The players will get their next opportunity to impress their coaches ahead of next year's RWC in New Zealand when the next round of matches take place on 19 June at Apia Park, Samoa.
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