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Rugby Matters: Make Pacific Islands rugby’s West Indies

Pacific Islands rugby

SO another World Cup is barely halfway through and all the Pacific Islands are on the way home – or rather back to their far flung clubs around the world – which is disappointing but inevitable. And they don’t even have any typhoon-based excuses to fall back on.

The temptation is to be blinded by Fiji’s brilliance for much of the Wales match. Yes, they were great in patches but overall it was still a pretty average campaign.

They fell apart after 40 minutes against Australia, inexplicably and inexcusably didn’t turn up against Uruguay and were efficient against Georgia. While acknowledging that Semi Radradra was utterly sensational – thank god Wales were only facing half a Radradra to regurgitate an old chestnut – Fiji generally were disappointing.

For me Tonga were the Pacific Islands team that have most to be pleased about. They were strong and consistent in a swine of a Pool. If they had found themselves in another group a third-place finish would have been well within their compass and perhaps even an historic scalp.

Samoa, meanwhile, were ill disciplined, lacking focus and – something I thought I would never write about Samoan rugby – predictable.

Not for the first time though you are left wondering what if… what if these teams were allowed to actually pick all their best players, those who have been poached, nicked and seduced by the rich T1 nations and Japan who have equal financial resources.

Below I select – and it took me all of two minutes – a Pacific Islands XV from those who have been ripping it up in Japan for other countries.

My very loose criteria is that not only should they have been born on one of the Pacific Islands but that they should have actually played some of their early rugby there. Many of course did much more than that – they starred for national age group or schools sides on the islands, representative regional fifteens or indeed for the national Rugby League side.

There are outside backs and forwards to spare and some cracking players have been omitted but I’ve had to be a tad inventive at half-back. The wonderful all-singing all-dancing Timothy Lafaele is normally a centre for Japan but with his wondrous hands could surely adapt to life as scrum-half.

All Black Sevu Reece, who earlier this year reportedly told Fiji coach John McKee that he wanted to play for Fiji at the World Cup before New Zealand moved in, has appeared all over the backline in his career thus far and could certainly do a turn at fly-half.

I have resisted the temptation to select giant France lock Sébastien Vahaamahina who hails from New Caledonia, which is a French Overseas Department although they do compete as a separate national XV in the Oceania championship.

 It’s a mighty line-up, possibly a tad top heavy on blockbusting backs but a side that could damage any opponents on their day.

 We’ve been here before. Is there any mileage in reviving the Pacific Island XV – a combined but representative, rather than invitational, fifteen which gave Australia and New Zealand decent games in 2006 when they also toured Britain.

If you take cricket as the model there are many island nations in the Caribbean – 15 in fact, including US Virgin Islands and the Dutch territory of St Maarten – who have cricket federations but internationally they can compete only when they amalgamate as the West Indies.

The inter-island rivalries are fierce and expressed in domestic tournaments but when it comes to Test cricket they put all that aside and unite. Or sometimes they don’t, which is one of the reasons a West Indies side can sometimes underperform woefully.

Can rugby copy that model? Is there anybody in the Pacific Islands – politically or in sporting terms – who could pull the islands together and if they could would World Rugby be able to accommodate such a scenario, just as the world of cricket was quick to understand the concept of the West Indies?

A reduced World Cup to 16 would surely help that process but the current thinking among World Rugby blazers is actually to extend the tournament, an expansion that could badly dilute the product. We can but dream. In the meantime here is my Exiles XV:

Pacific Exiles RWC2019 XV

15 Virimi Vakatawa (France/Fiji)

14 Aliverti Raka (France/Fiji)

13 Marika Koribete (Austrlaia/Fiji)

12 Tevita Kuridrani (Australia/Fiji)

11 Samu Kerevi (Australia/Fiji)

10 Sevu Reece (New Zealand/Fiji)

9 Timothy Lafaele (Japan/Samoa)

1 Nepo Laulala (NZ/Samoa)

2 Toly Latu (Australia/Tonga)

3 Taniela Tupou (Australia/Tonga)

4 Ofa Tu’ungafasi (NZ/Tonga)

5 Uwe Helu (Japan/Tonga)

6 Isi Naisarani (Australia/Fiji)

7 Amanaki Mafi (Japan/Tonga)

8 Hendrik Tui (Japan/Tonga)


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