Former All Blacks midfielder Seta Tamanivalu one of 10 new caps in Fiji squad
Tamanivalu qualifies for Fiji under World Rugby’s new eligibility laws, whereby test-capped players can represent a second nation that they are eligible for via birthright following a three-year stand down period.
Born-and-raised in Fiji, Tamanivalu played three tests for the All Blacks in 2016 before featuring in two non-tests in 2017, but hasn’t played any international rugby since then.
That makes the 30-year-old Toshiba Brave Lupus star available for Fijian selection, and he has been duly included in Vern Cotter’s 34-man squad to face Samoa, Tonga and Australia A next month.
Tamanivalu is joined by nine other players in line to make their test debuts for Fiji, all of whom played for the Fijian Drua in their maiden Super Rugby Pacific campaign.
Those players are locks Isoa Nasilasila and Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, loose forwards Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta and Rusiate Nasove, halfback Peni Matawalu, midfielders Kalaveti Ravouvou and Apisalome Vota, and outside backs Vinaya Habosi and Ilaisa Droasese.
Habosi, Vota and Ravouvou were particular standouts for the Drua in their inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season, as was Cirikidaveta after having joined the squad from New Zealand provincial side Tasman.
Those nine players make up more than half of the Drua contingent in the Fiji squad, with a further seven players from Mick Byrne’s squad making the national side.
Fiji will be captained by La Rochelle star Levani Botia, who has been listed as a loose forward despite having played his entire test career as a midfielder.
Botia is joined by other headline names such as Lyon wing Josua Tuisova, Stade Francais midfielder Waisea Nayacalevu, Racing 92 first-five Ben Volavola, Castres midfielder Vilimoni Botitu and Western Force wing Manasa Mataele.
Tavatavanawai finished a stunning Super Rugby Pacific campaign with 73 defenders beaten, the most of any player in the competition and 17 more than the second-placed Habosi.
Star utility back Semi Radradra is also absent as one of eight frontline players – including Peceli Yato, Viliame Mata, Meli Derenalagi, Kitione Salawa, Vilive Miramira, Samu Tawake and Peni Ravai – who have been listed as unavailable due to injury.
Cotter said he was excited for the return of the Pacific Nations Cup, which has been revived for the first time since 2019, as Fiji continues its preparation for next year’s World Cup in France.
“The PNC series is extremely important for us. We’re playing at home for the first time in a long time, and we want to do well,” Cotter said via a statement.
“Tonga has already named a very strong squad with returning internationals, and we know that Samoa will do so as well.
“Australia A will send a good team of players who will have just missed out on selection for the Wallabies from Australian Super Rugby clubs who performed really well against the New Zealand sides this year.
“There’s good depth in Australian rugby as well and everyone is fighting to impress selectors.
“We also have our eyes on the bigger picture, and the PNC is an excellent opportunity for our players to put their hands up for selection for November’s Northern Tour where we play Scotland, Ireland and the French Barbarians.
“This is exactly the type of challenge we need in preparation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.”
Fiji will open their Pacific Nations Cup campaign against Tonga in Suva on July 2 before they host Australia A and Samoa in Lautoka on July 9 and July 16, respectively.
Fiji squad for 2022 Pacific Nations Cup
Hookers: Mesulame Dolokoto (Fijian Drua), Tevita Kinavere (Fijian Drua), Sam Matavesi (Northampton Saints)
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