Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the three Pacific Island nations in this year’s Rugby World Cup, may have a chance of going further than they have ever gone before.
Fiji is currently ranked seventh in the world – their highest ranking ever.
That came about after their big win against England (30-22) at Twickenham in August.
“They’ve had a steady build up since they started in July with the Pacific Nations Cup, where they were able to win the series playing Tonga, Japan and Samoa and beating all three of them impressively,” says RNZ Pacific sports journalist Iliesa Tora.
He expects them to be “very competitive” in the pool matches, and if they actually ended up winning, “it would be the story of the World Cup”, he says.
Samoa’s team is sitting at number 12 in the world and they have “improved in leaps and bounds”.
“They have players that have got experience, have got the fire. Some of them have already played for the All Blacks … they’ve caused some upsets in past tournaments and they can still cause upsets at the upcoming World Cup.”
Tonga is ranked at number 15, and is missing a few key players – like Israel Folau, out with a knee injury – but they do have some former Wallabies and All Blacks in the squad, such as Adam Coleman and Charles Piutau.
“They came back from the Pacific Nations Cup series without a win. They defeated Australia A before that, and then they returned home and beat Canada in two test matches… Tonga is the dark horse of the Pacific teams.”
Despite all the promise, fandom and hope, these Pacific nations have struggled to get the resources they need.
Tora says that’s something the ‘tier two’ nationalities – nations that don’t play at the northern hemisphere’s Six Nations tournament or southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship – will always have a challenge with.
But he says improvements have definitely been made in recent years.
“There are two things that I believe have really helped in lifting rugby in the Pacific. One, the fact that their players now are playing competitive rugby out there in Europe in the different clubs… and across here in New Zealand and Australia.
“Secondly, the inclusion of Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua in the Super Rugby Pacific competition last year and this year. Covid came, provided that opportunity where New Zealand and Australia had to look to the Pacific to be able to make the competition competitive and work … that was a good effect that Covid brought!”
Tora also talks to The Detail about World Rugby’s new law making it easier for players to switch sides, which has brought some Pacific players back to their home countries.
“It has helped in lifting morale and standards within the teams themselves,” he says.
While some of the Pacific countries are more behind rugby league, Auckland-based Fijian Nemai Tagicakibau, the Fijian programme presenter for the Pacific Media Network and member of the forum of the Fiji Association in Auckland, is incredibly excited by rugby union.
“We just need the right people, the special people to be in there to bring this out of the boys,” she says.
“They are going to make it to the quarters… they’re not just going to fly in and fly out, no no no – we’re there to play and we mean business!”
But what if they get further in the competition?
“I’m going to have to go and tell the listeners … please, if Fiji reaches the finals, even the semis, go to the doctor, have yourself seen over – because we don’t want to have people falling when Fiji scores!”
Catch some of the joy and excitement of the Pasifika involvement in this Rugby World Cup by listening to the full podcast.
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