Fiji will be keen to get their Pacific Nations Cup campaign off to a strong start when they face Tonga at Churchill Park, Lautoka on Saturday.
Fiji will be eager to get their Pacific Nations Cup campaign off to a strong start when they clash with Tonga at Churchill Park, Lautoka on Saturday.
On the back of an impressive 25-14 win against Italy last week, momentum couldn't be stronger for a team blessed with powerful backline talent.
The deadly Nemani Nadolo, Timoci Nagusa, Metuisela Talebula, Napolioni Nalaga and Asaeli Tikoirotuma were all on show against the Azzurri and this week they welcome Nikola Matawatu back into their starting line-up after a strong campaign for Glasgow Warriors. Nagusa meanwhile has shifted to the full-back role.
That victory over Italy was an ideal start to John McKee's coaching tenure but he has chosen to mix things up for their competition opener, with captain Akapusi Qera moving to eight with Malakai Ravulo coming off the bench to start at openside against a side who drew with Samoa last week.
“Changes were made because we have other good players in the squad who were not given a run against Italy. Tonga is quite different from the Italy team and we will make some changes to our attack,” coach McKee told the IRB before praising the Tongans showing.
McKee continued regarding the task facing his forwards: “Our forwards have worked on the set piece during training in anticipation against a tough and mobile Tongan pack.”
Tonga meanwhile will be keen to exact revenge over the Fijians after their 34-21 loss in Tokyo in 2013's Pacific Nations Cup and have themselves changed things up for Saturday's game. Coach Mana Otai brings in a new half-back duo in the form of Sonatane Takulua and Fangatapu 'Apikotoa, who enjoy a promotion off the bench, while lock Daniel Faleafa and Exeter finisher Fetu'u Vainikolo also earn a start for what promises to be a great game.
“Physicality is part of our game but at the same time we want to play organised rugby against the Fijians. We need to improve from last week. Continuity and taking the opportunities that come our way are two areas where we need to step up,” said boss Otai.
Captain Nili Latu added: “We've about 16 new players with a few experienced players who play in Europe so it is a good mix. Fiji need to qualify for the World Cup after the Pacific Nations Cup and has a good squad with their overseas-based players. But we're ready.”
Ones to watch:
For Fiji: One of the standout players in Glasgow's season, Nikola Matawatu, is handed a start this week at scrum-half. Moved to wing during the close season by the Warriors because of his ability with ball in hand, Matawalu is set to test the Tongans throughout.
For Tonga: Against a devastating Fijian backline, the running response of Fetu'u Vainikolo is going to be critical to the Tongans. He has been impressive for Exeter this season, backing up his good spell at the Highlanders, so Fiji will do well to keep him quiet.
2013: Fiji won 34-21 in Tokyo
2012: Fiji won 29-17 in Lautoka
2011: Tonga won 32-20 in Lautoka
2011: Fiji won 27-12 in Lautoka
2011: Tonga won 45-21 in Lautoka
2010: Fiji won 41-38 in Apia
2009: Fiji won 36-22 in Nuku A'lofa
Prediction: On the back of a morale-boosting win over the Azzurri, we go for Fiji by 10!
Fiji: 15 Timoci Nagusa, 14 Sireli Bobo, 13 Adriu Delai, 12 Nemani Nadolo, 11 Watisoni Votu, 10 Jonetani Ralulu, 9 Nikola Matawalu, 8 Akapusi Qera (capt), 7 Malakai Ravulo, 6 Dom Waqaninburotu, 5 Leone Nakawara, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: 16 Bill Veikoso, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Isei Colati, 19 Api Naikatani, 20 Nemani Nagusa, 21 Nemia Kenatale, 22 Waisea Nayacalevu, 23 Metuisela Talebula.
Date: Saturday, June 14
Kick-off: 15:00 local (03:00 GMT, 04:00 BST)
Venue: Churchill Park, Lautoka
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Mathieu Raynal (France)