Fiji Rugby has today announced a powerful 34-member squad for the upcoming World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) featuring the Flying Fijians, Tonga, Samoa and Australia A.
The squad includes 16 players from the Fijian Drua, who will feature alongside other Super Rugby Pacific and Europe-based stars for their country.
Ten potential debutants have forced their way into the squad; among them, former All Blacks and Crusaders star Seta Tamanivalu, who will become the first Fijian player to join the Flying Fijians following the change in World Rugby eligibility rules in November 2021. A number of Flying Fijians named will also make a return to the Test arena.
“It’s very exciting and a real honour for us to present the first Flying Fijians squad of 2022 to the Fijian people”, Cotter said. “We have selected a squad from the best available players playing in the world’s top competitions, and I’m buoyed by the depth in Fiji Rugby at the moment. The Fijian Drua players come to us battle-hardened after their impressive first season in Super Rugby Pacific, and they will compete fiercely for spots with those players returning from the French Top 14 and English Premiership Rugby.”
Robust loose forward Levani Botia, fresh from winning the European Champions Cup with La Rochelle, returns to captain the Flying Fijians after last leading them during the All Blacks test series in July 2021. The squad features 321 caps in total.
The eight front rowers in the squad consist of loosehead props Haereiti Hetet (Fijian Drua) and Eroni Mawi (Saracens), hookers Sam Matavesi (Northampton Saints), Tevita Ikanivere (Fijian Drua) and Mesu Dolokoto (Fijian Drua), and tighthead props Luke Tagi (Provence), Mesake Doge (Dragons) and Manasa Saulo (Fijian Drua), who at 47 caps is the squad’s most experienced player.
The locks are Tevita Ratuva (Brive), Temo Mayanavanua (Lyon), Api Ratuniyarawa (Northampton Saints) and Drua duo Isoa Nasilasila and Ratu Leone Rotuisolia.
The backrow features big Albert Tuisue from London Irish (who also covers the lock position), Mesulame Kunavula (Edinburgh), captain Botia lining up alongside Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta and Rusiate Nasove of the Fijian Drua.
An all-Drua halfback trio of Frank Lomani, Simione Kuruvoli and Peni Matawalu have been named in the squad, with 42-cap Flying Fijians general Ben Volavola (Racing 92) and the returning Teti Tela (Fijian Drua) as flyhalfs.
Competing for a spot in the centres in the matchday 23 will be the Japan-based Tamanivalu (Toshiba), Vilimoni Botitu (Castres), experienced campaigner Waisea Nayacalevu (Stade Francais) and breakout Fijian Drua stars Kalaveti Ravouvou and Apisalome Vota.
The excitement machines on the wing will be Toulon star Jiuta Wainoqolo, the blockbusting Josua Tuisova (Lyon), Drua flyer Vinaya Habosi and Manasa Mataele (Western Force), one of Super Rugby Pacific’s leading line-breakers.
The two fullbacks rounding out the squad are Brive’s Setareki Tuicuvu and the Drua’s Ilaisa Droasese.
Droasese, Habosi, Vota, Ravouvou, Tamanivalu, Matawalu, Nasove, Cirikidaveta, Rotuisolia and Nasilasila are the 10 players in line for potential Flying Fijians debut in July.
Players not considered for selection due to injuries and rehabilitation are Semi Radradra, Peceli Yato, Viliame Mata, Meli Derenalagi, Kitione Salawa, Vilive Miramira, Samu Tawake and Peni Ravai.
Cotter added: “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. 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.”
The PNC will be the first Test series on Fijian soil for Cotter, who will have a strong coaching team with the likes of Daryl Gibson, Jason Ryan, Glen Jackson and Ritchie Gray assisting him.
Fiji Rugby Chief Executive John O’Connor said: “Making the national 15s team is the dream of every Fijian player. On behalf of the FRU President and our Chairman, I would like to congratulate our 34 players who will don the revered white and black Flying Fijians jersey in July right here at home, in front of our people. It will be a Test series to remember, and I know the team will make our fans proud.”
O’Connor added: “Test rugby is returning to Fiji after three years and we thank World Rugby for selecting Fiji as the host nation for the PNC. There will be fierce Pacific rivalry on the field as the best players from our region go head-to-head! It will be a fantastic occasion with brilliant, power rugby, as fans get to witness their favourite Flying Fijians and visiting Tonga, Samoan and Australian stars in person. Ticket details will be announced shortly and we encourage fans to secure these early!”
Flying Fijians July Squad
Loose Head Prop
Tight Head Prop
Ratu Leone Rotusolia
Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta
The Pacific Nations Cup will be played over three weekends in July, as follows:
Saturday 2 July, ANZ Stadium, Suva:
1:00pm: Australia A vs Samoa
3:30pm: Flying Fijians vs Tonga
Saturday 9 July, Churchill Park, Lautoka:
12:00pm: Samoa vs Tonga
3:30pm: Flying Fijians vs Australia A
Saturday 16 July, Churchill Park, Lautoka:
1:00pm: Tonga vs Australia A
3:30pm: Flying Fijians vs Samoa.