Let PNC rumble


The 'brave blossoms' are boasting their stand in Asia despite the fact that there is little or no high level of competitive rugby in Asia. This after the side was once again unbeaten the in HSBC Asian Nations Cup. This season, Japan amassed 312 points in four matches, only giving up 11. A regional powerhouse, Japan has never lost a match in the history of the tournament in Asia. Under the guidance of 2003 World Cup Wallabies mentor Eddie Jones, the side is boasting off another fancy season in the Pacific Nations Cup (PNC). After the pulling out of New Zealand Maori and Australia A, Samoa and Japan have then won the PNC respectively. Japan's defence of the title begins on June 5 when they lock horns against Fiji in Nogoya. 

Team Japan after winning the Asian 5 Nations title this year. PHOTO: Getty Images

Japan, set to host the 2019 World Cup, is ambitious and wants to become a major force in a sport dominated by countries such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England and France. Japan has started participating in the Pacific Nations Cup against Tonga, Fiji and Samoa to increase its exposure to tougher international competition. Coach Eddie Jones, who guided Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, plans to use his strongest team for the 2012 Pacific Nations Cup, something that Japan rarely has to do in Asia.

Fiji on the other hand, are still licking their wounds from last years loss to Japan and are hungry to get their hands on the PNC title. The side could not have asked for a better start into their campaign this season as they face the defending champs (Japan) in their first encounter next Tuesday. Scotland-based backrower Netani Talei will  captain the side.

Netani Talei (centre) for his Edinburg club. PHOTO: Getty Images
Talei plys his trade for Edinburgh, and will take over the captaincy from prop Deacon Manu who led Fiji to last year's Rugby World Cup. Manu recently signed a contract extension with his Welsh club, the Scarlets, and is not available for the Pacific tournament. Under the guidance of new coach Inoke Male, only seven overseas-based players feature in the 24 man squad for the match against Japan. The side is confident of a good outing this season.

Fiji had a poor outing last year after suffering two losses at home in the hands of Tonga and Japan and then failing to live up to expectations in the Rugby World Cup. Coach Inoke Male has a chance to redeem the Flying Fijians image next Tuesday when Fiji takes on Japan in their first PNC match. Male said that he has confidence in his team especially the local players to deliver what is expected of them.

Pacific neighbours Samoa are having troubles of their own just before the kick off to the 2012 PNC. Newly appointed Coach Stephen Betham was forced to dump Chiefs hooker and world cup captain Mahonri Schwalger, alongside Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu after directives from the country’s Prime Minister and International Rugby Board respectively. 
Axed. Fuimaono-Sapolo.  PHOTO: Getty Images

Fuimaono-Sapolu was omitted from Samoa’s 35-man training squad for the Pacific Nations Cup and a one–off Test against Scotland. Fuimaono-Sapolu received a suspended six month ban in October after an angry Twitter rant at the World Cup in New Zealand accusing Welsh referee Nigel Owens of racism after Samoa’s 13-5 loss to South Africa. He was in further trouble a month later over a Twitter outburst against Saracens’ Owen Farrell. Schwalger was dropped from the national side after writing a damning report criticising the team management's conduct at last year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, where an underperforming Samoa were eliminated in the pool phase. 

Coach Stephen Betham told the Samoa Observer after the squad was named that Fuimaono-Sapolu was axed because of a directive from the IRB.. Samoa coach Stephen Betham said the 33-year-old captain missed out because of his age but Schwalger, has been in fine form with high-flying Super 15 outfit the Waikato Chiefs this season. Schwalger told the Waikato Times that although there had been some changes in teams management, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi's role as chairman was hampering wholesale reform.  

Controversies seem to be long part of the Pacific Island nations before any major tourney, however, the islanders are gutsy enough to put behind their misunderstandings and pull off a surprising results. Samoa certainly has the ability to beat any team in the world after their famous and only victory over former world champs Australia last year. Fiji, I think get excited too quickly and their ‘late start’ in matches often proves costly. It will be interesting to see how they feature against reining champs Japan. The brave blossoms have been bubbling with confidence but only time will tell when the dust settles in Nagoya to see who comes out as the real best.  

Challenge... Samoa performs their war dance at the PNC last year. PHOTO: Getty Images. 

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Fijians shine across the globe


Former and current members of the Digicel National sevens side are at their usual best during the 2012 Carlton Super Sevens tournament in Sri Lanka. The tournament which is currently under way in Bogambara Stadium in Kandy concludes on June 3.
Games mascot. PHOTO:
A total of seven Fijians are mesmerizing the slowly growing rugby fanatics with their natural flair, astounding footwork, ability to offload in tackle and quick rugby mind. Captain Setefano Cakau with the ginger haired Osea Kolinisau alongside USA based Emosi Vucago are excelling with Jaffna Challengers which is coached by former England 7s mentor Mike Friday. Raising international star Metuisela Talebula and high flying Joeli Lutumailagi are helping North Central Typhoons. Ever-green Nasoni Roko and Taniela Rawaqa are also testing their skills with Eastern Eagles.  The SUNDAY TIMES reported:

The foreign players – particularly the Fijians Nasoni Roko and Taniela Rawaga were quite awesome. Almost all the facets of Sevens Rugby were on display in ample measure. The side step, the dummy, the swerve, the change of direction and the acceleration that one saw left one breathless. The foreigners by and large were not one dimensional. They attacked and defended with equal brilliance. The Fijians were good at the smother tackle. Metusela Talebula on one occasion did a beautiful chip, followed up and scored.

Nasoni Roko offloads. PHOTO: Dailynews
 There are about 40 international players from New Zealand, Samoa, England and many other countries featuring in the tournament. These players have or are still playing in the HSBC world sevens series. However, the writer opted to point out what the Fijian players had on display. This just goes on to show the talent we have in this small Pacific island country. Despite fighting tooth and nail and losing out to New Zealand on the World Sevens series title, performances like this is surely going to be a big boost in near future. The national ruggers need to be saluted for their bombastic showcase of local talents. This will surely have a multiplier effect attracting more foreigners to scout our local boys for greener pastures. Joeli Lutumailagi has been reported signing a contract with French Pro D2 club Narbonne. 

Meanwhile, Cakau is showing his experience after leading Jaffna Challengers to be one of the title contenders. This also shows the hard work put in by our skipper all throughout the last rugby season. Cakau has been the stalwart for the Challengers with his decision making and ability to keep the players composed. The Sunday Island reported:

Jaffna Challengers powered by Fijian rugby stars that featured their national skipper Seteffano Cakaunivalu, deputy and flyer Osea Kolinisau, the little master of current Fiji Rugby and Emosi Vucago, blended with local heroes, to put up a stupendous performance for them to maintain an unbeaten record in the day.

Osea Kolinisau does his thing in the competition. PHOTO: MOOX Images
This is definitely a win-win scenario for rugby in the country. Not only will these players market the name of Fiji rugby abroad but they will also bring in more exposure, skills and experience. They will be able to share the wealth of knowledge gained from this tournament on the rest of the team which will then raise our performance holistically. This is an awesome job done by the good guys to invite the local boys to play in international invitational competitions. I think, more players need to be provided when opportunities like this strikes. This is a healthy practice which has a lot of positives and one which will help develop the sport in Fiji. Of course there are negatives because more players will find contracts with overseas clubs, but what do we have to lose? Wherever they go, they will always be called "Fijians" and they will still be our players who have come through the ranks in Fiji. We certainly have the ability to boast another enthralling player from nowhere. As many say "talents are born in Fiji, that is something which cannot be taught".

Even Bollywood stars featured as guests in the tourney. PHOTO:

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Stop crying, grow up!


Will we ever stop complaining? That is the question I would like to ask after the Digicel Fiji 7's coaching staff are unhappy with with the new sevens' law put in place by the International Rugby Board (IRB). The decision has already been made by the parent body and can we not be bold enough to accept it rather then crying like  babies whose milk bottle seems smaller then the other kid he plays with. The co-coach Etuate Waqa said the subs at the upcoming World 7s Series season would only kill the intensity of the game and it would be like fielding a new team.  The FijiLive reported:
I would prefer if we have travelling team increased to 14 rather than increasing players on the subs bench from three to five. He said it would do more good if they are allowed to increase the number of players travelling to each tournament to 14 from 12.

Etuate Waqa (middle) with spoils. PHOTO Getty Images
The IRB and Unions sanction global Law trials and together they have amended Law 3.4 (Sevens Variation) to enable Sevens teams to nominate up to five replacements/substitutes. Under the revision, which will operate from June 1 2012, a team may substitute or replace up to five players during a match. Approval has been granted on player welfare grounds. This is to bring in line the expansion of the HSBC Sevens World Series which will  see three blocks of three events on consecutive weekends. These experienced  coaches need to be reminded that IRB did not make this decision alone. The decision which was made on May 15 was sanctioned following an extensive process of consultation and evaluation with its Member Unions. When we say member unions, it comprises of all the rugby unions that are part of the IRB. So are we. 

While we are busy crying over the spilt milk, our rivals have accepted the the change and are starting to map  out pathways towards the 2012/2013 HSBC world sevens series and the World Cup in Moscow. The event, which will take place from 28-30 June, will see 24 men’s teams vying for the coveted Melrose Cup, while the top 16 women’s teams in the world will also compete at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Evening view of Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. PHOTO: Getty Images

 Bitter opponents, England has already named an extended squad to prepare for the series and the world cup. Coach Benjamin Ryan, in an exclusive interview said:
We are all very excited about our squad. We want to continue to attack with more adventure and keep improving our players. The 5 subs for 7s is good and I don't think other laws will affect 7s much. I'd like to see no hit in scrums and proper binding. When teams lose a player early to injury in tournament it will affect them hugely with 5 subs and intensity of games now.

Ben Ryan. PHOTO: RFU
England Sevens contracted players include: Dan Bibby, John Brake, Chris Brightwell, Chris Cracknell, Mike Ellery, Christian Lewis-Pratt, James Lightfoot-Brown, Tom Mitchell, Dan Norton, Tom Powell, Jack Preece, James Rodwell, Mathew Turner, Rob Vickerman, Marcus Watson, Jeff Williams.We need to learn from others. When Ben joined the England side for the first time, they ended up going down to the bowl competition but with years of hard work, they are now a force to reckon with.  Standards have risen in all the teams and now there are many top tier sides. England has recorded a winning record of 4-1 against Fiji last season. Having lost on previous four encounters which certainly had a bearing on the winner of the series, Fiji only managed to beat England on the final hooter at the London sevens quarter-final. If only we had beaten them in the week before in Glasgow sevens, then our trophy cabinet may have had seen the display of the world series tag once again. Fiji has only won the series once in 2005/06 season.

The Melrose Cup. PHOTO:
There has to be some sense of urgency in our rugby house if we are serious about the coveted silverware.The Fiji rugby house is still awaiting reports and review committee to decide whether we are going to have the same coaches lead the side next season let alone the squad. Let us move on Fiji! We can not let our guards down and sit in our backyards eating cassava and drinking lemon tea while our rivals are busy preparing. If we are to stand any chance of having a crack to restore the Melrose Cup in our trophy cabinet once again, we need to start now. I think we need to select our squad now so that we are not in a situation to lick our wounds when the dust settles in Moscow saying "we did not have time to prepare". It is hard work and dedication that brings remarkable victories. Change is inevitable, they will come with time but we need to be smart enough to accept it and move on. Stop complaining, accept the fact and as coaches develop strategies to deal with them. 

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Fijian takes top Canterbury job


Former Fijian centre, Tabai Matson will teach Canterbury ITM Cup team to maintain winning ways in the New Zealand provincial competition. Mason is another Fijian that is earning a name in the number one ranked rugby playing nation in the world. New Zealanders are fond of including Fijians in their game because of the ability that players from this small island nation have. Some prominent names in the 15's game include: Josevata Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Joeli Vidiri, Viliame Waqaseduadua. In the abbreviated code a Fijian has always been in the New Zealand squad with the likes of Amasio Roma who was their play maker in the 1990's, Tomasi Cama Jnr another key member, Lote Raikabula, Waisake Naholo and many others. Despite plying his trade in New Zealand, Matson played two tests for Fiji in 1999. The New Zealand Herald reported:
Matson also played two tests for Fiji at the 1999 World Cup, played for Brive in France in 1998-2000, London Irish in 2000-2001, and Yamaha in Japan in 2001-2006. CRFU chief executive Hamish Riach said Matson was an obvious choice for the role: "We are delighted that Tabai has accepted the job". 

Tabai Matson during a training session. PHOTO: Getty Images

The question which raises many eye brows is; don't the Kiwi's have better qualified players and coaches in their own country rather than begging talents from Fiji? We lack resources here and that is exactly what the tier one nations are picking on. This is not a loss to Fiji but it shows the talents that we have. A non-Test All Black in 1995 and 1996, Tabai Matson finished his career as a duel international after playing for Fiji in 1999. 

Matson earned his first cap for Fiji against New Zealand Maori on August 3 1999 which they lost 57-20 and his second outing came against Uruguay 23 days later. They won 39-24. Matson was dedicated figure with the Canterbury franchise   and as TVNZ reported:
Matson has already been working with the Canterbury team as assistant coach since 2009, helping them to three of their four consecutive provincial titles. He also played 58 times for Canterbury and earned 25 caps for the Crusaders.

Wait! Let me catch up... ITM competition last year. PHOTO: Getty Images 
Time and again Fijians have proved what the game of rugby means to them and it seems like some tier one nations cannot have a formidable side without having a Fijian hand in their side. This just goes on to question the capability of their local players. How often do we lure players from other countries ply their trade for Fiji? 
How many sevens players from other nationalities have played for Fiji? However, there are dozens of Fijian players who have dazzled the crowd and led New Zealand to victories.The most recent being the IRB World Sevens series that New Zealand won. Their key player was Tomasi Cama, who also won the IRB player of the year award. It is time that tier one nations start to dig deep in their own backyard to find true potentials who could steer them to victory. Why do Kiwi's want to place the gun on our shoulders to shoot? Does New Zealand rugby want us to export more players than what they are taking from Fiji because they do not have better players who could win by themselves? Find your own players with true skills and develop them by yourselves. Stop feeding on Fijian players like Bakewa's do on sharks. What's the use of being ranked number one in the world when all the players are not your very own?

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Fijian flairs too much for English players


The Digicel national Fiji 7's side finished the 2011/2012 HSBC World Sevens series on a high note after wining the final showdown in London early Monday morning while New Zealand won the series. The Fijians once again showed the true, natural and uncanny skills of  rugby demolishing New Zealand (31-7) in the semi's and Samoa (38-15) in the final. In wining the final they also settled the score with England who defeated Fiji a week earlier in Scotland sevens' semi-final (26-21). That loss saw the islanders lose their grip as the Kiwi's had managed to open up a 11 point lead after wining the final in Glasgow. 
Victory is ours... Fiji celebrates after wining the 2012 London sevens.  PHOTO: Getty Images. 
It was a sweet revenge for the Fijians as they piped England (21-14) in the quarter-final right on the stroke of full-time. However, losing to a small developing Pacific island country in front of their home crowd did not sink in well for England. IRB boasted of record crowd  but the English fans did not display good sportsman emptying the stands early after their side was bundled out of the main competition. The two day total of more than 100, 000 was left with only a few thousands during the finals with island supporters  maintaining their ground. Even the media did not criticise England for their dismal outing instead tried to find flaws in rules of the game during breakdowns. Nick Pearce of the Telegraph reported:
It is difficult to see how this (break down rules) could fail to improve the game and it will no doubt delight the England set-up who watched on with disappointment as they were penalised an incredible nine times in their 21-14 cup quarter-final defeat to eventual tournament winners Fiji. One such debatable breakdown penalty, with England in pursuit of a decisive score, led to Fiji going the length of the field through Jamilai Naikadawa to score the winning try in the final move of the match
The Fijians were on their feet and managed to win the penalty because England did not release the ball and a quick tap and go saw Naikadawa crossing over for the try. The truth in fact is that England can not accept defeat. They should just accept that they lost to a better side who displayed an immense improvement in their game and were hungry for the win. For a moment, if we agree that referee's decision was not in line with the laws but then how will they make an excuse for England's (14-12) loss to Australia in the plate final? It is high time now that England realize they can not be the best in every facet of any sport and there are better teams out there. Fiji was simply at its best during the final day and that too showed in the scoreline during the semi's and finals which tallied more than 30 points a piece. 

This is not the first time that England has been shy after losing to Fiji. Making excuses has been long part of English rugby. During the 2009-2010 season they made excuses of player injuries for their loss to Fiji in the Wellington sevens in New Zealand which Fiji eventually won. Fiji then had ousted England 28-19 in the semi-final but the RFU (Rugby Football Union) said:
Injury-hit England performed admirably in New Zealand before going down 28-19 to eventual winners Fiji in the cup semi final.Young stars Mat Turner of Bristol – who bagged six tries overall – and Dan Caprice of Blackheath scored in the semi and produced mature performances throughout the competition after England lost captain Kevin Barrett on day one and sevens veteran Isoa Damudamu before play started.
Bitter opposition... England's Mat Turner right congratulates Osea Kolinisau after Fiji beat them in  Wellington in 2010. PHOTO: Getty Images.
Why can't they come out directly saying Fiji was a better team? Why does England want to pretend that they are better than Fiji? Does it hurt to say they were not up to par with their performance? The Fijians have proved time and again that they are a better side than England when it comes to sevens rugby. Fiji has finished the season on second spot with 161 points unlike England who finished third with 135 points. Fiji has been the sevens world champions twice, more than any team on the IRB circuit. Fiji has won the overall series in 2005/2006 season and England has never even tasted what it feels like to win the series.

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Talebula, Nayacalevu capable

Once again none of the Digicel Fiji 7's players have been nominated for the prestigious IRB World 7's series player of the year award. This after IRB released its top nominees with Kiwi duo, Frank Halai and Tomasi Cama getting the nod alongside Englishman Mat Turner.  Hard hitting forward  Waisea Nayacalevu and new kid on the block Matuisela Talebula are the obvious picks for many. However, none of the Fijians were considered after the candidates were shortlisted from  a vote by the management of the 12 core sides who compete at each and every round of the series. IRB said:

Fijian-born playmaker Cama is up for the award for the second year running, having lost out to South Africa's Cecil Afrika last season. Cama's sharp rugby brain and astute Sevens acumen has once again been a key factor behind New Zealand's drive for a 10th World Series success. He is also currently the season's top point-scorer with 330 and has 28 tries to his name.
However, Talebula has just come onto the HSBC World Sevens series scene in New Zealand's Wellington 7's and has raked in handsome 227 points only coming second to Tomasi Cama who has played in 8 tournaments now. Rookie Talebula has just five tournaments to his name yet 227 points, does this not show his "sharp rugby brain"?. The kiwi averages around 41 points per tourney while Talebula nudges ahead with 45 points per tournament. I think, this gives Talebula the right to atleast be one of the nominees. I say this is just sheer favouritism because according to the statistics our lad is superior to Cama. If we put the maths together, then at this average rate of 45 points per tournament, Talebula would have bagged about 360 points, 30 ahead of  Cama. It is high time now and people in position should put their acts together to recognise those who truly deserve it. 

Metuisela Talebula bursts away from the Portugal defence to get his name on score sheet. PHOTO: Getty Images. 
Secondly, Nayacalevu has been the stalwart for the Fijians all throughout this season. Despite being a forward, he has been the "go to men" for Fiji in most occasions and his tries have certainly made difference in tournaments like the famous Hong Kong glory. His final minute try helped Fiji to revive the lost glory. He has bagged 21 tries this season only 7 less then Cama and Frank Halai who area backs. Backs are normally quick and reactive who are always looked up when it comes to score sheets but Nayacalevu despite being a forward is almost there. He is a great sportsman and has not copped any cards all throughout the season. Nayacalevu just pops in at the right place on the right time to get the best out of the situation. He has been an awesome ambassador of the sport in Fiji.  I think there needs to be more transparency and smaller Island nations should not be overlooked. We have proven that the smaller countries have what it takes to topple the big guns and hold our heads high when we come out of the pitch. Despite being so consistent on the series no Fijian has taken the prestigious award from 2004.

Waisea Nayacalevu breaks New Zealand defence during the Hong Kong 7's final. Fiji won  35-28. PHOTO: Getty images.

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