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Ex-All Blacks midfielder Seta Tamanivalu named to make Fiji debut against Tonga

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Former All Blacks midfielder Seta Tamanivalu will make his return to test rugby this weekend when Fiji host Tonga in the opening round of the Pacific Nations Cup.

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Five years after he made the last of his five appearances for the All Blacks, Tamanivalu has been named on Fiji’s bench for their tournament-opener against the ‘Ikale Tahi in Suva on Saturday.

One of five debutants named by Flying Fijians boss Vern Cotter, the 30-year-old’s switch of international allegiance comes in the wake of World Rugby’s change of eligibility laws, which came into effect earlier this year.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 20
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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 20

Those new rules allow test-capped players to represent a second nation that they are eligible for if they, their parents or their grandparents were born there, but only after a three-year stand down period from test rugby.

The last of Tamanivalu’s three All Blacks tests came in a Bledisloe Cup clash against the Wallabies in Wellington six years ago, while he made two further non-capped appearances for New Zealand against the Barbarians and a French XV the following year.

As such, the Toshiba Brave Lupus powerhouse qualifies for Fiji – the nation of his birth – under World Rugby’s new eligibility rules, and is primed to make his second test debut at ANZ National Stadium.

Tamanivalu joins wing Vinaya Habosi, second-five Kalaveti Ravouvou, openside flanker Rusiate Nasove and lock Isoa Nasilasila – all of whom are Fijian Drua teammates – in making their first appearances for Fiji.

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Unlike Tamanivalu, though, the uncapped Drua quartet have all been named to start for the national team, with the selections of Habosi and Ravovou after the pair produced particularly impressive performances in Super Rugby Pacific.

Habosi, who forms an outside back contingent that also features Toulon wing Jiuta Wainiqolo and Brive fullback Seta Tuicuvu, beat the third-most defenders (56) and ran the fifth-most metres (1,174) as he electric pace was on full show for the Drua.

Ravouvou, meanwhile, partners will captain and Toulon star Waisea Nayacalevu in the midfield following a Super Rugby Pacific season in which he came fifth for defenders beaten (51) and sixth for metres carried (1,162).

Both players are joined in the backline by Drua teammates and halves partners Frank Lomani and Teti Tela, who line up at halfback and first-five, respectively.

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Up front, Nasove is joined by Edinburgh blindside flanker Mesu Kunavula and Gloucester No 8 Albert Tuisue in the loose forwards, while Nasilasila pairs up with Brive lock Tevita Ratuva in the second row.

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Elsewhere, it’s an all-Drua affair in the front row, where props Haereiti Hatet and Manasa Saulo will sandwich hooker Tevita Ikanavere.

In the reserves, Tamanivalu will be joined by hooker Sam Matavesi, props Eroni Mawi and Luke Tagi, experienced lock Api Ratuniyarawa, loose forward Kitione Kamikamica, Drua halfback Peni Matawalu and wing Manasa Mataele.

Standing in Fiji’s way is a Tonga side that has also utilised World Rugby’s new eligibility laws, naming former Wallabies star Israel Folau and ex-All Blacks duo Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau in their starting lineup for Saturday’s match.

Kick-off for the blockbuster Pacific Nations Cup clash is scheduled for 3:30pm local time.

Fiji team to play Tonga:

1. Haereiti Hetet
2. Tevita Ikanivere
3. Manasa Saulo
4. Isoa Nasilasila*
5. Tevita Ratuva
6. Mesualme Kunavula
7. Rusiate Nasove*
8. Albert Tuisue
9. Frank Lomani
10. Teti Tela
11. Vinaya Habosi*
12. Kalaveti Ravouvou*
13. Waisea Nayacalevu (c)
14. Jiuta Wainiqolo
15. Setareki Tuicuvu

Reserves

16. Sam Matavesi
17. Eroni Mawi
18. Luke Tagi
19. Apisalome Ratuniyarawa
20. Kitione Kamikamica
21. Peni Matawalu
22. Setareki Tamanivalu*
23. Manasa Mataele

* – denotes new cap

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