29 May 2012

Pacific Nations Cup - Fiji and Samoa Preview

'Samurai Spirit' in 2011
The IRB Pacific Nations Cup gets under way next week, as Fiji, Samoa and  Tonga look to wrestle the trophy away from last year's surprise winners, Japan (who will be hosting this year's tournament).

Japan's victory last year was a victory for flair and innovative back-play as the Cherry Blossoms defeated their more illustrious rivals to win the cup for the first time. Their exhillarating 28-27 victory over Tonga was one of the games of the year and showed just how far they had come under the coaching of the now departed All Black legend John Kirwan. It is up to Eddie Jones now to plan Japan's defence.

Today though, we focus on two of the contenders aiming to steal their crown, as Dumptackle rugby blog gives a brief rundown on Samoa and Fiji's chances.


Coach: Stephan Betham

Despite impressive performances against Australia, South Africa and Wales last year, Betham has taken to the Samoan squad with the kitchen broom. Gloucester centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu seems to have suffered due to his freqent outbursts on twitter, as he was barred by the IRB from competing. Former captain Mahonri Schwalger has also paid the price, after criticising Samoan Rugby officials at last year's World Cup. His letter to the Samoan Prime Minister, which detailed a culture of alcohol abuse, mismanagement and dishonesty seems to have cost him his international career.

Dumping of Scwalger a bad PR Move?
A few veiled excuses have been offered to justify Betham's selections, but the reality is that he has had a shocker. His decisions have prompted anger and embarassment in his home nation. Local newspapers have declared Schwalger 'the people's captain' and have described his ousting as a 'comedy of errors and a sad tragedy'. The fallout continued too as Seilala Mapasua, George Stowers and Alesana Tuilagi were also dropped from the squad after supporting Schwalger in the disupte. It looks like Betham may have bitten off more than he can chew so don't be surprised to see his head roll if their campaign is unsuccessful.

Captain: Unknown

Key Player: James Johnston

Johnston a pillar of strength in 2012
Despite the ommision of so many Samoan stalwarts in the latest squad, there is still more than enough fire-power to keep the opposition having sleepless nights. The Pisi brothers (George and Tusi) are incredibly talented and have grown into their roles with the national team, while Kahn Fotuali'i is a very under-rated scrum half and ver assured. He never looked out of place feeding Dan Carter at the Crusaders. I'm going to go with one of the front rowers though. There has been a certain Tongan prop (Sona Taumololo) who has been getting more than his fair share of meat pies in the Super 15 this year but James Johnston has been just as impressive in Europe (even without the tries). The tighthead prop has been an immovable rock come scrum time in the Aviva Premiership and was arguably one of the key reasons why Harlequins were crowned English champions of 2012. If he can perform to the same immaculate, punishing standards for his country, they'll be a very difficult side to beat.

Prediction: 2nd

Even with a raft of stars missing, Samoa have enough fire power distributed throughout their forwards and their backline to cause some trouble. They have the best squad in the competition but are they unified? Time will tell. I have a feeling they may come unstuck somewhere along the way. Runner's up medal for Samoa.


Coach: Inoke Male

Inoke Male planning for the future
New Fiji coach Inoke Male has a difficult job on his hands as he takes the reigns following a disappointing World Cup last year. His first squad suggests it's a case of out with the old and in with the new. Fijian stalwart Deacon Manu is unavailable due to the terms of his contract in Wales and so has been replaced as captain by Edinburgh's in form back rower Netani Talei. Only seven overseas players have been picked in the initial 24 man squad (although that may change when it is expanded to 28 ahead of their second match).

Captain: Netani Talei

Talei leads by example
Talei has been given the job of leading the next generation of young Fijian talent. In a country where rugby is treated like a religion, that is quite some burden, but one that he can handle.

Talei's perormances this year at club level prove that he warrants the captaincy of the national team. In the Heineken Cup he has produced some collossal displays for Edinburgh; full of power and inspiration and has made by far the most yardarge out of any player in the competition. At times he has resembled a runaway train and has undoubtedly been one of the genuine stars of 2012. Talei may lack his predecessor's experience, but like Deacon Manu, one can be sure that he will lead his team by example.

Key Player: Netani Talei

Fiji have all the flair and skills in the world, but one of their consistent failings is that they can sometimes lose their way in matches. I may be stating the obvious, but given the severe lack of experience in this squad, you would have to say that Talei will absolutely key to their hopes. Most of the squad are domestic players and will be new to the PNC. It will be good experience for them and hopefully will help in terms of developing locally based players to be ready for international rugby. If it goes wrong though....it could be horrible watching for their loyal fans.

 It's a shame that so many of their star players snub the PNC due to the greater rewards they receive for honouring their contracts in Europe/ Super Rugby... but at the same time is entirely understandable. How great would it be to see Leinster's classy Fullback Isa Nacewa donning the white shirt though?

Prediction - 4th

It's so difficult to come to a decision on this but unfortunately I think Fiji could be wooden spooners this year. They undoubtedly have a lot of talent, but you can't ignore the fact that their squad looks very green. The xperience given to locally based players will help the depth of Fijian rugby in the long run though. Exposure to the grind of International rugby is no bad thing and one has to commend the new coach for his boldness in planning for the future.

Preview of Japan and Tonga to come soon.....

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous07 June, 2012

    samoa to win it done deal!