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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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

A very good and interesting reading, not getting too technical with the rugby jargons which is just what articles on rugby these days need. Overall it is informative, well structured and entertaining as well.

Anonymous said...

Japan deserves to boast their victories because they have improved immensely over the years in rugby. Though they have never won a match at the rugby world cup, but they are closing the gap on the losing margin. They even drew with Canada in the last world cup. They will surely be a team to reckon with in the competition especially under the guidance of Eddie Jones. He is a great coach and will take Japan a long way

Ronish said...

I do agree that Eddie Jones is a great coach. It only takes a great rugby mind to take any team to World Cup final and certainly Jones played a huge role when he coached the Australians to the 2003 World Cup final, however, they lost to England. What difference he can make will be seen once the PNC kicks off proper.

gerardspeaks said...

Fiji will indeed be out to reclaim lost glory from last years PNC. A positive point to note is that the Flying Fijians squad consists mostly of our local based players. That's a promosing sign for Fiji rugby in general as it shows that the development programs put in place by the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) is working. Look at the results of the Fiji Warriors tour, winning five out of their six games during the tour of Australia and New Zealand, two months ago. This just goes to show that the FRU does not need to rely on the overseas-based players to make up a winning team. The local boys have stepped up to expectations and have even surpassed their overseas counterparts. This year's PNC will be a fiercely battled tournament and Fiji will be no pushover.

Vavaitamana.Glen said...

Controversy will always be a part of sport. I follow Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu on Twitter and I must admit, his Tweets are pretty hard-hitting and without fear. He usually Tweets about rugby in general but there are times when he aims his frustration or anger at something or someone. Recently he has been Tweeting against the Samoan government for their role during the Samoan Independence Day celebrations. I will not repeat it here but let me tell you that it is really humourous for me to read his comments and thoughts on issues that I may not be familiar with. His exclusion from the Samoan PNC squad certainly feels like a political decision and one can’t really blame coach Stephan Betham for following the IRB directive to drop him. However, it then means that having an opinion is indeed a dangerous thing especially if you intend to broadcast it to the world.

By the way, the picture which you tagged as 'Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu' is actually of Tusi Pisi.

Ronish said...

I think, we can not blame the coach. He has to follow directives from the parent body because it is their sanctioned tournament. One local example is of former Fiji Football Association president Dr Sahu Khan. He went in the Radio Sargam commentary booth and removed Raymond Stoddart for his outbursts on Fiji FA. Stoddart could not do anything but leave the booth because it was Fiji FA sanctioned tourney and he had to follow the directive. I think, this is poor on the part of IRB. They are just abusing the power on hand. We can say that the International Rugby Board is acting as 'big bullies' in the Pacific.
Meanwhile,thank You for picking that out Glen. I have made the necessary changes. Sometimes, they all just look too familiar.

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