Picking a Pacific Islanders XV Including Their Exiles
The Pacific Islands have become accustomed to losing many of their best players to other nations due to migration and economic factors. Based on a model derived from the British and Irish Lions, from 2004 to 2008 they produced a combined team that toured every two years.
With Will Skelton and Malakai Fekitoa just beginning their Australian and All Black careers respectively, now is an appropriate moment to look at other stars the Pacific Islands missed out on.
Here is a XV selected from all the current players eligible to play for Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, including those playing for Australia, New Zealand, England and Wales. The islanders miss their exiled world-class players, but put them all together, and this would be a side able to match the best in the world.
1. Soane Tonga’uiha (Tonga): After a successful spell at Northampton Saints, the powerhouse prop joined Racing Metro at the end of the 2012-13 season. A dynamic scrummager, ball-wrecker and strong carrier, Tonga’uiha has been one of the best props in Europe for several seasons.
2. Ti’i Paulo (Samoa): Paulo is one who went the other way. Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, he has gone on to represent Samoa despite captaining New Zealand at U21 level. The Clermont Auvergne hooker is a tough front-rower who is quick in the loose and relishes contact.
3. James Johnston (Samoa): Born in Auckland, New Zealand, prop James Johnston is the younger brother of Census, who now plays for Toulouse. James is a potent scrummager who had his raw ability successfully developed at Harlequins, and more recently at Saracens. He completes a physically imposing but mobile Pacific Islanders front row.
4. Will Skelton (Australia): Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Skelton, who has one full cap for Australia, represented Samoa in the IRB Junior World Championships. His brother Cameron, also a second-rower, played for Samoa in last month’s tournament. But Skelton senior is a Wallaby. The 6'8" lock weighs 135 kilograms and scored a try on debut against France last month. He is a star in the making.
5. Lua Lokotui (Tonga): The Gloucester lock was born in Auckland, but is a Tongan international. Prior to arriving in the West Country, he had a spell with Stade Francais in Paris. Lokotui gets through a mountain of defensive work, he is a rangy runner and a fine line-out jumper.
6. Taulupe “Toby” Faletau (Wales): Tongan-born back-rower Faletau has been one of Wales’ most consistent performers since his debut in 2011. Still just 23, Faletau can play across the back row. His game is underpinned by a tireless work ethic, which enables him to play a crucial role carrying his team forward and making tackles in defence.
7. Jerome Kaino (New Zealand): Hailing from American Samoa, Kaino is a versatile back rower who was nominated for the 2011 IRB World Player of the Year award and was 2011 All Black Player of the Year. Excellent at the ruck and in defence, Kaino relishes contact at close-quarters, but his hands make him an asset in attack. Kaino is often underestimated when placed alongside Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, but his impact on the All Blacks has been highly significant.
8. Billy Vunipola (England): Born in Australia to Tongan parents, Vunipola’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all played for Tonga. After a stint in Wales, Vunipola now has 10 caps for England and is establishing himself as a first-rate No. 8. With Faletau and Kaino doing the donkey work from the back row, in this team Vunipola would be free to do what he does best: Run, beat defenders and offload.
9. Will Genia (Australia): Born in Papua New Guinea, Genia is one of the best scrum-halves in the world. At 26, despite suffering injuries he has an impressive 55 caps. A fine passer and a livewire runner, Genia often runs sideways with the ball from the base of the ruck in order to draw defenders or find forwards running onto the ball. His eye for a gap sets him apart from almost every other scrum-half in the game.
10. Tusi Pisi (Samoa): After spells with Super XV side the Crusaders and Toulon in France, Pisi now plays in Japan for Suntory Sungoliath. A competent kicker and creative fly-half, Pisi had an impressive World Cup in 2011, particularly in the match against Fiji, when he kicked Samoa to victory. Last month he scored all the points in Samoa’s 15-0 win over Italy.
12. Manu Tuilagi (England): Born in Samoa, Manu Tuilagi came through the age groups with England, and stepped up to the senior side in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Tuilagi, 23, opted to represent England despite five of his brothers playing for Samoa. Now one of the best centres in the world, how Samoa could do with his talents.
13. Malakai Fekitoa (New Zealand): Fekitoa is one of the most exciting young players in the world. The Tonga-born centre has strength, pace, a sidestep and fantastic hands. Sure to become one of the stars of the global game, Tonga’s loss is certainly New Zealand’s gain.
11. Napolioni Nalaga (Fiji): The Clermont Auvergne winger is building a reputation as one of the best back-three players in European rugby. He has also shone internationally, with nine tries in 17 Tests. As the above video demonstrates, Nalaga scores all types of tries: From one-on-one finishes, to powering through defenders and perfectly executed chip-chases. The Fijian flyer is a slippery winger with a deft hand-off and one of the best finishers in the game.
14. Niki Goneva (Fiji): Goneva had his best season to date with the Leicester Tigers. He finished as the Aviva Premiership top try scorer with 12 and won a host of internal awards at the Tigers. For his country, Goneva has an impressive 14 tries from 29 caps. Quick and strong, Goneva pleased Tigers fans by agreeing a contract extension in April.
15. Sitiveni Sivivatu (New Zealand): As per ESPN, Fijian-born Sivivatu played three times for the Pacific Islanders combined team, and won 45 Test caps for the All Blacks, scoring 29 tries. He now plays for Clermont Auvergne in France. For his change of pace and guile, Sivivatu made The New Zealand Herald’s list of 100 Greatest All Blacks.