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The Simon Raiwalui verdict on the reimagined Pacific Nations Cup

By Liam Heagney
Ex-Fiji boss Simon Raiwalui (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Ex-Fiji boss Simon Raiwalui has hailed the unveiling of the reimagined six-team Pacific Nations Cup which will start on August 24 and build towards the final in Japan on September 21. Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and the USA will be guaranteed a minimum of three Tests and one home fixture, boosting development, exposure, and competitiveness.

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Two regional pools of three have been created to minimise player travel during the pool phase and the tournament will feed into the new two-division global calendar competitions to be launched in 2026.

Japan and the USA will host the PNC finals in alternate years. Osaka will host the first final, with Tokyo staging the semi-finals on September 14/15. Fresh from having guided Fiji to their first Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance in 16 years, Raiwalui can’t wait to see what unfolds over the five weekends.

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Now working for World Rugby as a high-performance pathways and player development manager, he said: “The regions that are involved, the Americas, Japan, Pacific Islands, they have been really looking for consistent matches and what the new PNC gives us is that consistency of matches long term to plan ahead.

“It gives them a real opportunity to plan ahead not only just for newer players coming through developing, it just gives that long-term security that the regions have been looking for.”

The 49-year-old retired second row played in 49 Test games during his playing career, 46 for Fiji and three more for the combined Pacific Islanders team that toured in 2006. Having since gone on to coach the Fijians, he recognised the potential of the new PNC.

“I played in the previous iteration. This one is really geared towards having that success and getting those players back playing within their unions. There is definitely a gap between the top 10 where they are getting the extra matches in the Six Nations/The Rugby Championship.

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“Now within these regions, we are getting consistent matches through that period and it’s going to be geared towards that success. I’m really looking forward to seeing what it brings in terms of competition and how it turns out in the first year.”

Raiwalui also approved the idea of playing the semi-finals and final in Japan and the USA in alternate years to build the long-term profile of the PNC. “It’s good, two big markets that are being explored. Japan with their World Cup (in 2019) was a great experience, great for the nation, they were great hosts.

“And the USA is obviously a huge market going into 2031 trying to grow the game, the new Anthem franchise coming there (in this year’s MLR). It’s a great opportunity to play those matches, the final rounds, in those two nations on alternate years.

“Long term for everyone, the content is the key, getting those matches. Those markets we are playing the finals in are big markets and we are trying to drive opportunities there.

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“The more content you get in each country the better, it’s just going to help with growing the game, more participation, more matches at home where they are getting their home content and that has always been a difficulty in the past.

“You had July where you had your matches, maybe one was away, but this just gives you certainty to pan for the future.”

  • Coming soon to RugbyPass: Exclusive Simon Raiwalui interview reflecting on Fiji’s Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign and his new role with World Rugby growing the game globally
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Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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