IRB Pacific Nations CUP
By Indra Singh
The IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2011 continues on Saturday when the action moves to the Fijian capital Suva, where the hosts face a do-or-die encounter and Tonga and Samoa could set up a title decider if they win.
Fiji and Japan know victory is a must if they are to keep alive their hopes of a first ever Pacific Nations Cup title after opening day defeats, not to mention the opportunity to get one over sides they will face at Rugby World Cup 2011.
Tonga open proceedings at the National Stadium against Japan at 12:40 local time, a precursor to their Pool A encounter in Whangarei on 21 September. Fiji then tackle their RWC 2011 Pool D rivals Samoa at 15:10.
Tonga v Japan
Tonga coach Isitola Maka is looking for more improvement from his side and insists that the goals set before the start of the competition is what they are out to achieve.
Despite a great 45-21 win over Fiji, the former All Black believes it will be a tough task against Japan because most of his players will only be playing their second match together.
“Most of our players didn’t go to the Churchill Cup and only played together for the first time last week,” explained Maka, whose side won their first Pacific Nations Cup match since 2008 last weekend.
“All we want to do is improve from the last game and the belief is that we can improve further. We were last in the PNC last year but our goal is to win it this year and we need to take the Japan game very seriously.”
Fly half Kurt Morath, who was outstanding against Fiji, will again be the key for the Friendly Islanders, while the likes of half back Samisoni Fisilau, captain Samiu Vahafolau, back row Sione Kalamafoni and Chiefs Super Rugby prop Alisona Taumalolo will provide the necessary support.
Japan mentor and former All Black great John Kirwan is wary of what to expect from the hard hitting Islanders, but with the likes of injured James Arlidge returning he is looking at the positives.
The only Asian team to have graced the Rugby World Cup stage, the Brave Blossoms are looking at countering Tonga with their own brand of rugby.
“All sides have been working hard,” said Kirwan, whose side have beaten Tonga in the last four years of the Pacific Nations Cup.
“Tonga will be physical and put pressure on us from the start, but we need to play our own style and play our game to counter that. We have a few players coming back from injuries and that should boost the side.”
Fiji v Samoa
The biggest rivals of Pacific rugby meet at the National Stadium and both sides anticipate a typical island battle, especially after Samoa’s 31-9 victory in 2010 saw them crowned champions not Fiji.
Samoa coach Titiamaea Tafua is adamant, though, that the match is nothing compared to what will happen when the sides meet again at Rugby World Cup in Auckland’s Eden Park on 25 September.
“Fiji is always a good side. We are prepared well for the match on Saturday and it will be a good game as always when Fiji and Samoa play,” Tafua said.
“This is a build-up and trials for the World Cup and while winning the PNC is not important at the moment, we would like to defend the title.
“We in the Pacific play the game with our heart and that is what will be on show this Saturday.”
His counterpart Sam Domoni has called up veteran Seru Rabeni to his squad to replace outstanding midfield back Gabriel Lovobalavu, an inclusion which will certainly boost the Fijians.
“We have a lot of work ons to do like other teams when they want to better their performance, and of course this is a do-or-die game for us. So for us, we are taking it as a big challenge and it’s a good one and it’s also on our home turf and we ready to go,” Domoni said.