The Pacific Islanders want to prove the success of Fiji and Tonga at last year’s Rugby World Cup was no flash in the pan by winning their first-ever Test on their European tour starting next week.
Made up of the top players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, the Pacific Islanders will be making only their third tour, following Tests against southern hemisphere countries in 2004 and a first trip to Europe in 2006.
AFP reports that the team, managed by former Fiji prime minister and leader of two 1987 military coups Sitiveni Rabuka, will play England on November 8, followed by France the following week and Italy on November 22.
England will be firm favourites for the Twickenham test but Pacific Islanders head coach Quddus Fielea is refusing to be cowed, saying both teams are starting from scratch.
“It’s the same thing for both teams, it’s their first game (of the season), it’s our first game, so we have to be smart with our preparation and our game plan,” Fielea told AFP.
The Tongan national coach was a late replacement as head coach for the Pacific Islanders, after Ilivasi Tabua pulled out last month for personal reasons.
Tabua’s Fiji gave the Springboks a fright in their World Cup quarter-final last year before being overwhelmed by a late flurry of points while Fielea’s Tonga stretched both England and South Africa in pool play.
Fielea says the combined talents of the three island nations will make the Pacific Islanders an even more troublesome challenge for their European opponents.
With most of the players currently playing for European club teams, fitness should not be an issue.
But a lack of preparation could count against the Pacific Islanders, who gather in London on Sunday for the first time ahead of the following Saturday’s England Test.
“The only thing we are looking for is our combinations,” Fielea said.
“I think it is a matter of making it simple, playing to our strengths with a simple game plan.”
With stars including Tonga’s Nili Latu and Viliami Vaki in the forwards and Fiji’s Mosese Rauluni and Vilimoni Delasau in the backs, the Pacific Islanders do not lack talent.
Pacific Island teams are renowned for their ferocious and exciting style of free-running rugby, but they have also been accused of shortcomings in set play and a lack of tactical variations.
“We need the right mix, in the past we have been known for running the ball and I think the opposition are preparing to defend against that, so we need to be a bit smarter this time,” Fielea said.
The Pacific Islands national teams are starved of high quality opposition outside the World Cup, and the coach realises this tour is the perfect chance to stake a claim for more regular Tests.
“This is probably the best chance for us to go and showcase our potential in Europe.
“We need some more games against the leading nations. This is part of convincing the decision makers to take us more seriously,” he said, adding, “we want to take Pacific rugby to where it should be.”
Fiela said that the tour provided an opportunity for the three island nations of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa to put aside their fierce rugby rivalry.
“Everyone in the islands will be behind the team. This time it’s not about Fiji, Tonga or Samoa — this is the Pacific brotherhood.”Tweet