Fiji Warriors will be hoping to follow the example of their sevens counterparts and provide some much-needed light relief to the victims of Cyclone Winston with victory in the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2016.
The Flying Fijians dedicated their USA Sevens title win in Las Vegas at the weekend to those affected by the devastation that left more than 50 people dead and thousands homeless, and Warriors’ captain Peni Ravai is keen to emulate that success at the four-team tournament in Suva.
“It means a lot to us to do well,” the 25-year-old prop said. “We would like to win this tournament and maybe put a smile on the face of people who suffered in the cyclone.”
A key development tournament for the Oceania region, the Pacific Challenge was first introduced to the international rugby calendar in 2006 and has taken on many guises since.
"It means a lot to us to do well. We would like to win this tournament and maybe put a smile on the face of people who suffered in the cyclone."
The competition has been won a record five times by Fiji Warriors, the last time in 2013, with the Argentina Pampas XV taking the honours in each of the last two years.
Due to their recent involvement in the Americas Rugby Championship, Argentina and Canada drop out of this year’s event which, in addition to the hosts, features the national A teams from Samoa, Tonga and Japan.
The Fiji Warriors begin their quest for a sixth title with a game against rivals Samoa A, who arrive in Suva strengthened by a number of New Zealand-based players.
“The new boys have helped the boys on the island from a game understanding and positional play point of view. The blend between the two has been good and I think that’s benefitted our preparation,” said Samoa A captain Greg Foe.
The Samoans led Fiji Warriors by a couple of points at half-time in last year’s fixture only to concede four tries after the break and lose 42-20.
“The boys are in good spirits and everyone is raring to go for tomorrow’s game against Fiji," Foe added. "The feedback from last year’s game was that they’re really good at the offloads and keeping the ball alive so we will have to shut them down in that sense and be physical and take the game to them.”
Last year’s bottom two, Tonga A and Junior Japan have the honour of getting the tournament underway at the ANZ Stadium, which emerged from the wreckage of the cyclone relatively undamaged.
After conceding more than 200 points in the round-robin stage in 2015, 60 of them against Tonga A, Japan's young guns put in a much better performance against the same opposition in the fifth place play-off, losing 43-24.
Only seven of Junior Japan’s 32-man squad are over 20, whereas starting fly-half Patelesio Oneone, who is 20 in 10 days’ time, is the sole teenager in a much more experienced Tonga A line-up.
Tonga A are led by prop Sione Vaea, who expects the game to won and lost upfront. “The boys are ready for the challenge, they know Japan will be good in the scrum and fast around the pitch, but we’ve worked hard on our set-piece ahead of the match and hopefully the tight-five can lead the way.”
In acknowledgement of the hardship affecting the Fijian public, entry is free to all of the games at this year’s Pacific Challenge.
Photo credit: Bruce Southwick/Zoomfiji
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