Sunday, May 21, 2006

The inaugural IRB Pacific Rugby Cup

In an effort to help lift the performance of the Pacific rugby nations, the IRB last year announced two major regional initiatives. The more important of the two is the creation of High Performance Units for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. The other is the creation of an annual Pacific Rugby Cup. tournament The tournament is designed with providing locally based players greater opportunity to play competitively at a high level. Importantly, it provides these local players (who come in all shapes and sizes as evidenced here) a chance to train, travel and play rugby in a fashion very similar to that of the touring international squads.

The tournament is comprised of six teams, two each from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Over the last six weeks these teams have played each other at home and away in the pool matches with some firce competition between several of the sides. The last pool round was particularly crucial for establishing where the home final would be played. Thanks to Savaii Samoa's win over 'Upolu Samoa in that round, the final was held yesterday at the Marist grounds at Lotopa. Savaii Samoa playing against the Fiji Warriors to earn the right to lift the Pacific Rugby Cup.

The standard of play during yesterday's final was not brilliant but one has to take into account the heavy rain earlier in the day that made for tough going. Evenly matched in the first half, it was only until the second half that the intensity of the game really picked up. An excellent period of rugby by Savaii Samoa saw them cement their first half lead over the tourists, who to their credit, applied enormous pressure in the final fifteen minutes of the match. Spirited defense however kept them from scoring, giving Savaii Samoa a hard earned 10-5 win.

The win gives the Samoa Rugby Union its second trophy to keep in the cabinet alongside the Pacific Tri-nations Cup they won last year. The trophy is a pretty nice piece of silverware, modelled rather well by my mate Darren, as one can see in the accompanying photo. For the players however, the cup itself may well pale in comparison to the possibility of being called up to join the national squad. With Manu Samoa coach Lauli'i Michael Jones watching yesterday's final, many were keen to show their skills in the hope of representing their country in next month's Pacific Five Nations tournament. We'll have to wait and see.

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