Fiji host the Manu Samoa for a chance to possibly win the Pacific Nations Cup, though it’s unclear after the hack-job the IRB have made of the tournament. Apparently the blazers in Dublin still haven’t decided whether the winners of the two pools will play each other later on in the year. Whatever they decide, nobody will care. Most probably don’t even realise there’s a tournament going on. It’s all rather sad given the entertainment that it’s produced in past years.
Politics aside, Fiji have looked pretty good in the past couple weeks. They survived a troublesome Italian side and outclassed Tonga, and are clearly enjoying their new coach. John McKee has been able to pick from the majority of his best players, and the results speak for themselves. With a little over a year to the World Cup, the squad is beginning to take shape and only a few spots will come from outside this group.
McKee has made four changes to the side that won in Lautoka, with only one up front as captain Akapusi Qera reverts to openside, with dynamic Nadroga no8 Nemani Nagusa recalled from the bench. Napolioni Nalaga, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, and Metuisela Talebula all return to the positions they occupied against the Azzurri. Niko Matawalu retains his spot at scrumhalf and faces off against Kahn Fotuali’i in a mouthwatering matchup.
Injury to Isei Colati means that relative unknown Leroy Atalifo covers tighthead on the bench, where a surprise inclusion is former professional soccer player Isoa Donaldson. The Nadi flyhalf was not in the extended squad originally named but with McKee looking to build depth at a troublesome position, the specialist goal kicker could well win his first cap. Sunia Koto and Wame Lewaravu are also back in after being left out of the Italian match.
Stephen Betham hasn’t quite enjoyed the same level of access to his professional stars, but a good number of them remain on hand for this fixture. Like McKee, he has made four changes to the team that beat Italy. Filo Paulo adds his bulk to the second row in place of Fa’atiga Lemalu, while Maurie Fa’asavalu and Taiasina Tuifu’a replace benched Piula Fa’asalele and injured Ofisa Treviranus respectively. Big Joe Tekori has answered an S.O.S. and arrived to take a spot on the bench after originally being named in the Pacific Barbarians squad to play against Tonga.
The backline sees only one change, with Johnny Leota taking Alapati Leiua’s centre spot, and Anitele’a Tuilagi called up to the bench as cover. Faifili Levave and Kane Thompson are others ruled out by injury, while rumours of a late call-up of Alesana Tuilagi appear unfounded.
Fiji have lost the last two matches against the Manu, but have won six straight when at home. They have momentum on their side, and certainly have the more formidable back line. The scrum could be a problem, as the Samoans pushed around the Italian pack that had done the same to Fiji a week earlier, and similarly the tight-loose could be an issue as well. It’s a tough one to call but give the slight edge to the form side and pick Fiji to edge this one at home by 5.
FIJI vs SAMOA
Saturday, June 21, 03:00 GMT, Suva
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
Assistants: J.P. Doyle (RFU) & Rohan Hoffman (ARU)