Planet Rugby

Preview: Fiji v Samoa

19th June 2014 18:22

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Fiji Samoa

Shackled: George Pisi

Rampant so far in June, Fiji play host to local rivals Samoa in Suva to decide the Pacific Island Conference of the Pacific Nations Cup.

The Flying Fijians, now coached by John McKee, have moved into the top ten in the IRB World Rankings after first defeating Italy 25-14 before hammering Tonga 45-17 last weekend.

Fielding a quite exquisite backline packed with recognised talent, Fiji appear to be finally fulfilling their potential.

At the heart of their good form has been Nemani Nadolo. The Crusaders wing has turned out at inside centre over the last two weeks, proving that he possesses great skill with the boot as well as pace by becoming Fiji's primary goalkicker.

Nadolo converted all six of his side's tries against Tonga and added a penalty, while his 100 percent kicking was essential in seeing off the Azzurri in Suva earlier this month.

After wandering through stints in France and England, the artist formerly known as Ratu Nasiganiyavi is having his best season to date.

As previously mentioned, Nadolo is surrounded by talent. Metuisela Talebula was the top try scorer in the Top 14 last season, a league which Napolioni Nalaga has dominated.

Asaeli Tikoriotuma has starred for the Chiefs and will do the same for Harlequins next season, while Nikola Matawalu's livewire performances have been at the heart of Glasgow Warriors' rise to the top of the Pro12.

Fiji would go nowhere in the backs though without a solid foundation, laid by the likes of Leone Nakawara, Dom Waqaninburotu and skipper Akapusi Qera. These are all top players who appear to be functioning well as a unit for the first time.

The scrum though remains a concern, after coughing up two penalty tries to the Italians, something their own coach pointed out earlier this week.

"Looking at Samoa's game last week, they are a very physical team and it's going to be tough battling them, particularly upfront and around the ruck areas. We have to be really smart on how we play the game around those areas," said McKee.

"If I was playing against Fiji, I would be looking to take it on in the forwards as well because our strength is in the backs.They are probably wary of our speed outside so they will want to try to close the game down."

That's good news for Samoa, who much like their Pacific Island rivals possess a number of talents whose success is proven either in Super Rugby or Europe.

A soft scrum will make an easy target for a stellar Samoan front row, which includes Leicester's Logovi'i Mulipola, Clermont's Ti'i Paulo and Saracens' James Johnston, who keeps brother Census on the bench.

Drawing 18-18 with Tonga two weeks ago came as a shock given the strong side fielded by Samoa coach Stephen Betham, but they responded in kind by nilling Italy last weekend in a 15-0 success.

Tusi Pisi can match Nadolo in the goalkicking competition having landed five penalties last weekend, but Samoa are not without their own batch of firepower out wide.

David Lemi captains the side once again but the Premiership trio of George Pisi, Jonny Leota and Kahn Fotuali'i all have enough spark to unlock defences. Their own defence will need to be rock solid.

Ones to Watch:

For Fiji: The top try scorer in France by some distance, Metuisela Talebula's 15 scores played a huge part in Bordeaux Bègles avoiding relegation by the slimmest of margins. A powerful runner who is still only 23, Talebula is a real talent and will have space to attack from the back.

For Samoa: The forward power of Samoa is their best bet to win this contest, so look out for Maurie Fa'asavalu. The Oyonnax-bound star has proven his prowess at the breakdown and good work carrying into contact time and again with Harlequins. Samoa need their big bodies to front up, and Fa'asavalu fits right into that category.

Head to Head: The two scrum-halves. Tempo will be everything and while Nikola Matawalu tends to play at breakneck speed to suit his elusive backs, Kahn Fotuali'i will want to slow things down and bring his pack into the contest. Two differing styles which are both very effective.

Previous Results:

2012: Samoa won 29-26 in Tokyo
2011: Samoa won 27-7 in Auckland
2011: Fiji won 36-18 in Suva
2010: Samoa won 31-9 in Apia
2009: Fiji won 19-14 in Lautoka

Prediction: Based on the last few weeks Fiji look unstoppable, regardless of the threat of Samoa's pack. A home crowd and good form should ensure a first win for Fiji over Samoa since 2011. Fiji by 7!

Fiji: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Napolioni Nalaga, 13 Asaeli Tikoriotuma, 12 Nemani Nadolo, 11 Sireli Bobo, 10 Jonetani Ralulu, 9 Nikola Matawalu, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Dom Waqaninburotu, 5 Leone Nakawara, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: tbc

Samoa: 15 Faatoina Autagavaia, 14 Fautua Otto, 13 George Pisi, 12 Jonny Leota, 11 David Lemi (capt), 10 Tusiata Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Taiasina Tuifua, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 Daniel Leo, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 James Johnston, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Wayne Avei, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Census Johnston, 19 Piula Fa'asalele, 20 Iosefa Tekori, 21 Vavao Afemai, 22 Patrick Fa'apale, 23 Anitelea Tuilagi

Date: Saturday, June 21
Venue: ANZ National Stadium, Suva
Kickoff: 15:00 (local, 03:00 GMT)Referee: Mathlieu Rayna (France)

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