Injury-hit Fiji host Tonga to kick off the Pacific Nations Cup on Saturday as the Pacific and North American teams begin their shakedown ahead of the World Cup.
In the tournament held across three nations, this weekend’s other opening round fixtures will be played in San Jose, where Canada face Japan and Samoa meet the USA. Later matches will be played in Canada.
When they meet their island nation rivals in Suva, Fiji will be without flying winger Nemani Nadolo and skipper Akapusi Qera who were injured during the narrow 27-26 loss to New Zealand Maori last week.
Nadolo, a key points scorer for Fiji, tore an abdominal muscle and will play no part in the Pacific Nations Cup.
Fiji coach John McKee said Qera, who has a knee injury, could have played against Tonga but the decision was made to rest him for Fiji’s second match against Samoa in California next Friday.
“Our target is to be the fittest team for the RugbyWorld Cup and we have got two months to work on that,” McKee said.
Under a new Pacific Nations Cup format, the six teams play three matches each with the two best-performing sides meeting in the final.
“I’m expecting three very challenging games,” said McKee, whose side will play the World Cup opener against England on September 18.
“Tonga always have a very strong squad in RugbyWorld Cup year and there is a fierce rivalry between the two countries on the rugby field.
“Samoa showed what a strong team they are in their strong performance against the All Blacks. Japan are the big improvers in the Pacific region with some very impressive results over the past 12 months,” he added.
The Pacific Nations Cup will give the United States some valuable insight into two of their World Cup pool rivals — Samoa and Japan.
“The Samoa game will be an interesting one, for sure, with both teams no doubt testing each other out before the World Cup,” said Saracens-based USA captain Chris Wyles.
“And the same goes for Japan, who we narrowly lost to in a high-scoring game (37-29) in last year’s competition. Tonga is always a tough game too,” he added.
Although the Pacific Nations Cup features second-tier teams, World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset said it “takes on extra significance with Rugby World Cup 2015 just two months away”.
Samoa, three-time champions of the regional tournament, are ranked ninth in the world, ahead of Fiji (11), Tonga (12), Japan (13), USA (16) and Canada (17). – Agence France-Presse