Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Pacific Islands rugby teams ready and primed for the big show

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Avatar photo
Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

All you need to know about our Pacific teams heading into this years Rugby World Cup

Photo: Tonga Rugby Union/Facebook

Coach: Toutai Kefu
Captain: Sonatane Takulua
Pool B: Tonga, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa & Romania

Heading into this year’s Rugby World Cup, Tonga’s Ikale Tahi is coming off some mixed results in terms of their pre-world cup fixtures. Despite an opening victory over ‘Australia A’ in front of a packed home crowd, the Toutai Kefu-led side failed to claim a victory in the Pacific Nations Cup against Fiji, Samoa and Japan.

However, two matches against Canada got them back on their winning way, with both victories taking place in front of enthusiastic home crowds. 

Of the Pacific teams, it can be argued that Tonga has the more stacked squad on paper. This was made possible with the introduction of the new eligibility laws allowing former tier one players to suit up for the smaller teams after serving a three-year stand down from international rugby.

However, a major issue for Tonga in the past few matches is its failure to gel as a team, in terms of their on-field combinations. A consistent match flow is something that Kefu and his coaching staff will look to work on as they prepare for their tough pool matches. 

Another major hiccup for Tonga in their World Cup preparations is the injury to star outside back Israel Folau. A former NRL and Wallabies star, Folau was part of the new addition to the squad due to the eligibility law change. Unfortunately, the star player has been ruled out of the World Cup after suffering a knee injury.

However, some positives heading into the tournament have been a couple of standout players. Leading from the front are powerhouse forwards Vaea Fifita, Solomone Funaki and Samiuela Lousi who provide plenty of go-forward.

With pool matches against forwards-dominated teams like Ireland and South Africa, their big boys up front will be key to giving Tonga a fighting chance to create a major upset in their highly-touted pool.

In the backline, experienced fullback and former All Black Charles Piutau will provide his individual brilliance alongside his speed and lethal footwork guiding a backline mixed with youth and experience.

A couple of players to keep an eye out for during the tournament is utility back Fine Inisi and outside back and youngster Kyren Taumoefolau who are in their first World Cup. 

Photo: Manu Samoa/Facebook

Coach: Vaovaosamanaia Seilala Mapusua
Captain: Michael Ala’alatoa & Chris Vui
Pool D: Samoa, England, Argentina, Japan & Chile

A lot has happened since coach Mapusua took over the reins with Manu Samoa. A disappointing past two World Cup campaigns in 2015 and 2019 means he’s under pressure for a much better showing this time. 

Like their neighbours Tonga, the new eligibility laws were a much-needed boost for Manu Samoa with the inclusion of some big names like Steven Luatua, Fritz Lee, Jordan Taufua and more. The inclusion of these players has filled the gaps in positions that Samoa has been lacking in over the years.

A great example is the addition of the experienced fly-half pairing of Christian Leali’ifano and Lima Sopoaga. The duo have brought some much-needed guidance in a position Samoa have struggled over the years to fill. Having two experienced fly halves who have both played for the best teams in the world gives Mapusua flexibility in shifting around his backline to work around the number 10 jersey.

Aiding the experienced duo at ten is the well-balanced selection of halfback options for Manu Samoa. Mapusua has gone for three halfbacks with Moana Pasifika duo Jonathan Taumateine, Ereatara Enari and local sevens star Melani Matavao. Given that the halfback position is the crucial link between forwards and backs, having depth in that jersey is vital for the playmaker combo of 9 and 10.

A close loss to world number one Ireland showed a great example of this, as Taumateine gelled perfectly with Sopoaga in guiding the team around the park. If these combinations come strong during World Cup matches with England and Argentina, Samoa pose a major threat to the pool with a big chance of advancing to the playoffs.

A major factor affecting the Samoa camp at the moment is fatigue and the failure to close off games when needed. In their pre-world cup fixtures, Samoa lost to Ireland and Fiji with both losses showing Manu Samoa struggling with fatigue and being able to provide enough impact off the bench to seal the win when needed.

World Cup games are a matter of having only one chance to get it right, so if Mapusua and his men can fix that issue and have an 80-minute battery life as a team, Samoa’s chances of notching upsets in their pool are high.

Two players everyone should keep an eye out for are forwards Theo McFarland and former NZ Sevens rep Fritz Lee. Coming from a basketball background and only three years into his professional rugby career, McFarland has amazing aerial skills in lineouts and provides a great ball-running option.

Lee on the other hand is a true workhorse who has shown not only his strength in the breakdown area but is also one of the fittest players on the park for Manu Samoa. Both players have the potential to cause major headaches for opponents on attack and defence.

Photo: Fiji Rugby/Facebook

Coach: Simon Raiwaiui
Captain: Waisea Nayacalevu
Pool C: Fiji, Australia, Wales,Georgia & Portugal

Going into this year’s World Cup, Fiji have established themselves as the best Pacific Islands rugby team so far. In true Fijian manner, Raiwalui and his team are humble about their achievements in their pre-world cup matches.

An unbeaten run in the Pacific Nations Cup against Samoa, Japan and Tonga, the flying Fijians went close to beating France before coming up on top against England a week later. The France and England matches were a major, positive sign in terms of their capability to upset the bigger and stronger nations.

The first visible positive for Fiji is the physicality and fitness levels the side is bringing this year. From the front row right through to the backline, each player is able to carry their own in the contact aspect of the sport. This was proven well as Fiji clearly dominated England not only in the breakdown area but also in one-on-one tackles. 

Leading from the front are blockbusting names such as Levani Botia and Albert Tuise who show immense strength in powering the team forward in terms of metres gained. The same upfront toughness is also a factor in the backline with the likes of Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova who’re breaking defensive lines and providing efficient offload options. 

In high-intensity tournaments like the World Cup, teams will be expected to be performing at their peak which is something Fiji has consistently shown they can do this year. The only worrying factor would be any injuries during the tournament which, fingers crossed, won’t be of concern for Raiwalui and his team.

Another big decision from the Fiji camp was the non-inclusion of veteran fly-half Ben Volavola in the World Cup squad. Raiwalui has opted for the partnership of Fijian Drua fly halves Teti Telea and Caleb Muntz. Both have stepped up big time in the 10 jersey this year nailing their roles within the team each opportunity they get.

Muntz is someone to keep an eye out for during the tournament as he is expected to have a big influence on Fiji’s chances of advancing to the quarterfinals. A silky playmaker in the middle and an all-rounder in his kicking game, Muntz has proven to be a revelation in the playmaker role for the stacked and dangerous Fiji backline.

Another player to also keep an eye out for is hooker Sam Matavesi who brings an accurate lineout throw into the mix. With strength and size not being a problem for Matavesi, it is his footwork that has been a standout for him in the side. Any forward who can break and bust through tackles while also wrong-footing their opponent off a step is a huge threat for any team. 

Stay Connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive daily updates direct to your inbox!

*we hate spam as much as you do