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All three Pacific Island Test teams are lit this weekend

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Things are hotting up for the Pacific Islands teams ten months out from the start of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France as Tonga, who are giving debut caps to ex-All-Blacks Vaea Fifita and George Moala, Samoa and Fiji have all announced eye-catching XVs for their respective Test matches this Saturday against Spain, Italy and Scotland.

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In Malaga, former All Blacks Fifita and Moala will make their Tonga Test debuts after availing of the World Rugby change in the eligibility laws that now allow players the chance to play for the country of their birth following a standdown period.

Fifita could have missed out this weekend due to a mishap last month with Scarlets, his Welsh club, but he is available after successfully coming through tackle school to shave a week off the four-week ban received for his red card when playing in the URC.

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The 30-year-old won the last of his eleven New Zealand caps in July 2019, while the Clermont-based Moala – who celebrates his 32nd birthday on matchday on Saturday – was last capped by the Kiwis in 2016. Fifita and Moala are named in an XV that also includes Malakai Fekitoa, another ex-All Blacks player who made the switchover earlier this year when he played against Fiji in July.

There is similar encouragement for Samoa as Jordan Taufua, who also previously played for New Zealand, is again chosen for his Pacific Island team after he twice played for them in July. Saracens’ in-form back-rower The McFarland has been named at blindside for the Samoan game with Italy in Padua.

Vern Cotter, meanwhile, is giving a Fiji debut to second row Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, while ex-Fijian 7s and Olympic Games gold medalist Sireli Maqala and Livai Natave are in line to win their first caps off the BT Murrayfield bench. On Maqala, Cotter said: “He has impressed us with his skill sets. He can kick well, with the ball he is strong and tough and he offers us a number of positions as he can play at No10, 15, and at the centre.”

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The area of the team taking on the Scots that especially stands out is the Fijiian back row. Albert Tuisue will be at the blindside while Levani Botia, who usually plays at midfield at club level, will start at openside while Viliame Mata returns from injury to start at No8.

“We need to approach the game with a lot of humility. We are a tier two team playing a tier two team that had a game already in their bag,” continued Cotter. “We are slowly getting together but we want to get learnings from this plus we have the Rugby World Cup next year so it is really important that we put ourselves up against a very good team and I’m sure from we will come away with individual and collective improvements to be made.”

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