Suva (Fiji) (AFP) – There is more at stake than regional glory for Samoa when the Pacific Nations Cup opens in Suva on Saturday as they also fine-tune preparations for a late 2019 World Cup berth.
Samoa — the only side in the competition not yet confirmed starters at next year’s World Cup in Japan — play Fiji in the opening round, while Tonga will play Georgia.
The Samoans have played in every World Cup since 1991 when they made the quarter-finals, but their hopes of an early entry to Japan vanished when they finished third last year in the Pacific Nations Cup which served as a regional World Cup qualifier.
Their hopes now rest on the outcome of home and away games against the winner of the June 16 match between Germany and Portugal.
“We’re confident that we’ve picked the right players for the Pacific Nations Cup as well as for the Rugby World Cup qualifying games,” Samoa head coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua said.
“We are aware that the task ahead is not easy for us but we will give it 100 percent come game day.”
Fiji have won the past three Pacific tournaments while Samoa have won the title three times, most recently in 2014.
For their clash on Saturday, Samoa have named three new caps with Harlequins backrower Mat Luamanu and Bordeaux wing Ed Fidow in the run-on side and Western Force fly-half Rodney Iona on the bench.
With most of the island players drawn from clubs around the world, Samoa captain Chris Vui said the side had blended well in the short time together.
“The game plan is really simple due to the time together, but we have a big defensive mindset to stop the Fijians offloading and stopping them early before they get their heads up and momentum with the ball.”
Fiji have four players set to make their Test debut against Samoa with Sevanaia Galala, who plays for the French club Brive, starting at centre while hooker Veremalua Vugakoto, prop Eroni Mawi and fly-half Alivereti Veitokani are on the bench.
Samoa are targeting the last spot in Pool A for the World Cup which also includes Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Russia.
Tonga are in Pool C which is headed by England and France while Fiji and Georgia are in Pool D, which also includes Australia and Wales.