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Fiji overhaul team for Samoa clash in Pacific Nations Cup title race

By Alex McLeod
Fijian players sing national anthem during the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup match between Tonga and Fiji at the HFC Bank stadium on July 2, 2022. (Photo by Leon LORD / AFP) (Photo by LEON LORD/AFP via Getty Images)

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Eyeing their sixth Pacific Nations Cup title, Fiji have overhauled their lineup for the tournament finale against Samoa this weekend.

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Depending on whether Tonga can upset Australia A in the match beforehand, Fiji’s hopes of winning yet another Pacific Nations Cup will go on the line against Samoa, who sit in pole position heading into the final round of the tournament.

Five competition points astray from their Pacific Island neighbours, all the pressure is on the third-placed Fijians to score a bonus point win over Samoa, which – provided Tonga beat Australia A – would assure them of the Pacific Nations Cup title.

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With that in mind, Fiji head coach Vern Cotter has made a total of eight changes and a few positional shifts to his starting lineup for the Samoa clash at Churchill Park in Lautoka on Saturday.

Gone from the run-on team are headline figures Seta Tamanivalu and Josua Tuisova, both of whom have been benched after starting in last week’s shock defeat to Australia A.

Instead, Cotter has named captain Waisea Nayacalevu and Jiuta Wainiqolo to start at centre and right wing, respectively, after the pair started in Fiji’s 36-0 whitewash of Tonga in Suva a fortnight ago.

Nayacalevu and Wainiqolo are two of five new faces in the backline, as are first-five Ben Volavola, second-five Vilimoni Botitu and fullback Seta Tuicuvu, who all replace Teti Tela, Levani Botia and Manasa Mataele, respectively.

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A reshuffle up front sees utility forward Isoa Nasilasila move from lock to blindside flanker at the expense of injured loose forward Mesu Kunavula, paving the way for lock Tevita Ratuva to come into the second row.

Loosehead prop Eroni Mawi, meanwhile, replaces the benched Haereiti Hetet, who joins Tamanivalu and Tuisova as three of five newbies in the reserves, with the others being hooker Tevita Ikanavere and prop Luke Tagi.

“We have had a couple of injuries in the team after two games therefore it gives an opportunity to other players to step up, take the responsibility and face the challenge,” Cotter said as he called for improvements from his side after last week’s loss.

“It’s better to use last week’s game to learn and rectify mistakes. There are some key areas that this team had identified but didn’t live up to the expectations last week so we need to step up this week.

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“The other thing we working is on our organisation, especially on our character and how we express ourselves on the paddock this weekend. We would like to see a big improvement in the way we play on the field.

“We need to be better in every aspect of ruck time, aggressive in our carry and not to lose positions.

“Let’s build on the things which we did well against Tonga so probably I think the main message is enough talk and let’s get on with it. We all know that we weren’t good enough last week so let’s get better this week.”

Kick-off for Fiji’s clash against Samoa is scheduled for 3pm local time.

Fiji team to play Samoa

1. Eroni Mawi
2. Sam Matavesi
3. Manasa Saulo
4. Apisalome Ratuniyarawa
5. Tevita Ratuva
6. Isoa Nasilsila
7. Rusiate Nasove
8. Albert Tuisue
9. Frank Lomani
10. Ben Volavola
11. Vinaya Habosi
12. Vilimoni Botitu
13. Waisea Nayacalevu (c)
14. Jiuta Wainiqolo
15. Seta Tuicuvu

Reserves

16. Tevita Ikanivere
17. Haereiti Hetet
18. Luke Tagi
19. Temo Mayanavanua
20. Kitione Kamikamica
21. Peni Matawalu
22. Seta Tamanivalu
23. Josua Tuisova

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