Pacific rivals go head-to-head for PNC title

(IRB.COM) Saturday 22 June 2013
 Pacific rivals go head-to-head for PNC title
Influential scrum half Nikola Matawalu will move to full back for the Flying Fijians' crunch PNC clash against Tonga on Sunday

By Rich Freeman in Tokyo

The IRB Pacific Nations Cup reaches its conclusion on Sunday at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground with three teams still in with a chance of claiming the silverware.

Canada (13 points) currently top the standings but having played their four games, they can only sit back and watch as Fiji (11) take on Tonga (10), with the winner assured of the title.

A high scoring draw with Fiji also bagging four tries would also see them finish top, while a low-scoring draw would see Canada crowned champions.

“We're just aiming to go out and win,” said Fiji coach Inoke Male, when asked how his team would approach the match.

“It's going to be a very physical game: typical Pacific rivalry. The team that uses the options well will win. We will need to concentrate for the full 80 minutes to beat Tonga.”

Male's starting XV shows five changes from the one that took the field on Wednesday against the United States.

Five changes

In the pack, Campese Ma'afu comes in at loosehead prop, Vili Veikoso starts at hooker and Wame Lewaravu has recovered from illness and takes his place in the second row.

There are also two positional switches with Api Naikatini moving from lock to flanker, and Netani Talei from flanker to number 8.

In the backs, Nemia Kenatale starts at scrum half and Saula Raditi is handed the No.12 jersey. Seremaia Bobo shifts from 12 to 10, while Nikola Matawalu, who started the last game at 9 moves to 15 to replace the injured Timoci Nagusa.

With three players suspended and a number missing through injury, the Ikale Tahi have made three changes and three positional switches from the side that beat the United States last week in Los Angeles.

Peni Fakalelu comes in at loosehead prop, Japan-based Emosi Kauhenga is handed the No.6 jersey and Hale T Pole shifts to number 8.

In the backs, Alaska Taufu returns at outside centre, with Fraser Anderson moving to the wing and Viliame Iongi shifting to full back.

“Tomorrow is the most important game of the year for us. It's really exciting,” said Tonga captain Nili Latu. “We've never had the trophy before so we are going to give it our all. We're hungry to win. But we need to control our discipline, back our game and not give silly penalties away.”

Wooden spoon decider

In the second game, hosts Japan and the United States play for the wooden spoon.

Japan make six changes from the side that started against Canada.

Masataka Mikami and Hiroshi Yamashita start at prop with Yusuke Nagae and Kensuke Hatakeyama dropping to the bench. There is a similar change in the second row with Hitoshi Ono and Shoji Ito restored to the starting XV at the expense of Justin Ives and Shinya Makabe.

In the backs, Craig Wing, who was a late withdrawal on Wednesday night, is fit again and he starts at 12 with Yu Tamura on the bench, while Yoshikazu Fujita replaces Kenki Fukuoka on the wing, after Fukuoka failed a late fitness test.

“It would have been easy to rest players on Wednesday or tomorrow,” said Japan coach Eddie Jones.

“It's difficult but these are our best players and we want to win. It's a tribute to the growing tough attitude of the players. They want to play and don't want to give their spot to someone else.”

Clever reaches milestone

The Eagles have made wholesale changes to the side well beaten by Fiji.

Todd Clever leads the side on a landmark day – the 30-year-old is set to win his 50th cap for his homeland against the country he has called home for the past three years.

The recall of Clever is one of five changes in the pack with Shawn Pittman and Chris Biller starting in the front row, Brian Doyle in at lock and Scott Lavalla joining Clever in the back row.

In the backs, Mike Petri, Andrew Suniula and Chris Wyles are all included, having started the last game on the bench.

“The summer Tests haven't gone to plan,” said Clever. “We knew it would be tough because of the schedule, the turnarounds and the travel but we haven't played to our potential. We are in a bit of slump but we have to get out of it and try and end the PNC with a good taste in our mouth,”