There were a couple tough decisions, but for the most part the team of the Pacific Nations Cup picked itself. Each of the five nations are represented in the side.
1 – Hubert Buydens (Canada) Has quietly gone about becoming a key man in the Canadian pack since establishing himself at the World Cup. Gets the job done in the scrum and gets through a surprising amount of work in the loose for a big man.
2 – Shota Horie (Japan) A class apart from all other challengers. His Super Rugby experience has sharpened his technical skills, and he acts like an extra loose forward around the park.
3 – Jason Marshall (Canada) Not the best scrummager, nor the best carrier at his position, but has a high work rate and performs well consistently. Like Buydens, central to his team’s success up front.
4 – Emosi Kauhenga (Tonga) Underrated beast of a man who was called out of the international wilderness to provide a huge boost to the Ikale Tahi pack. Invariably gets over the gainline. He would have been well suited to a career in the Premiership had he not opted for the yen instead.
5 – Apisai Naikatini (Fiji) Equally at home on the blindside, he has become an indispensible member of the pack since moving to Japan. Strong in the lineout and surprising footballing skills for a big man.
6 – Tyler Ardron (Canada) Newly signed by Ospreys, the 22 year old has already cemented his name in the first XV. Honorable mention to Japan’s dynamic Hendrik Tui, but Ardron was outstanding in all facets of play.
7 – Akapusi Qera (Fiji) Only Nili Latu can stand with him in terms of class. Quite simply a world class player whose bone-crunching tackles and barnstorming runs have earned him the captaincy for the foreseeable future.
8 – Takashi Kikutani (Japan) There is always competition at this crucial position, with names like Carpenter and Clever there or thereabouts, but the best Japanese back rower of the professional era just keep blasting away. The only question is whether he can last another two years.
9 – Fumiaki Tanaka (Japan) The whole country seems to lift when this little master plays. Suits his team’s playing style to a tee and a joy to watch. Shades of Pierre Mignoni at his best about him.
10 – Harumichi Tatekawa (Japan) Probably best at no12, but a classy operator at either position. One of a new generation of Japanese midfielders combining strength and guile to go with absolute commitment. A more than worthy successor to Yukio Motoki.
11 – Sireli Bobo (Fiji) The old man was a surprise inclusion after availability issues necessitated his recall, and barely a minute into his international return he was on the board with a scintillating score. If you aren’t already drinking Fiji water, you should be.
12 – Sione Piukala (Tonga) Missed his centre partner Siale Piutau after suspension, but stood up to be counted when his team needed go-forward. Not a world beater but hugely physical.
13 – Nemani Nadolo (Fiji) Male Sa’u impressed for Japan but this lump was the player of the tournament. A revelation at centre after failing to impress on the wing, the world will be on notice as he absolutely steamrolled over opposition with performances eerily reminiscent of another big fella of days gone by.
14 – Luke Hume (United States) By some distance the best of his countrymen on display, even bettering his highly regarded captain. A constant thorn in the side of defences and it’s a complete mystery why he hasn’t been signed to a pro contract yet.
15 – Ayumu Goromaru (Japan) Mr. Dependable has emerged as a world class goal kicker, his country’s finest since Keiji Hirose. Steady as a rock at the back and part of the team’s leadership group. Outshone similar candidates James Pritchard and Chris Wyles.