Samoa will host a men’s international tournament for the first time in 13 years when the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2023 gets underway on Wednesday.
Returning for the first time since 2020, the Pacific Challenge will pit Manuma Samoa, Fiji Warriors, Tonga A and Junior Japan against each other in a round-robin format played over three match-days in Apia.
The action will kick-off at Apia Park at 12:30 local time (GMT+13) on Wednesday when defending champions Junior Japan take on Fiji Warriors. Hosts Manuma Samoa will then get their campaign started against Tonga A at 16:00 local time.
Lakapi Samoa CEO Faleomavaega Vincent said: “We are excited to be hosting this event in Samoa after the last three years of the pandemic but also a start on what is an exciting year for rugby in our region heading towards Rugby World Cup in Europe.
“We are grateful to World Rugby for bringing the games to Samoa and we look forward to hosting our friends from Japan, Tonga and Fiji.”
Each of the four teams competing in the World Rugby-funded tournament are made up of the best locally based players, helping to give stars of the future an opportunity to develop their skills in a competitive environment.
Competition rules state that 23 members of each 28-man squad must be 23 years of age or younger on 3 May, 2023, while the five remaining players can be any age over 18.
Among the players who have appeared in the Pacific Challenge and gone on to make their test debut are Fiji scrum-half Frank Lomani, Samoa number nine Melani Matavao and Tonga fly-half James Faiva.
Japan have selected a completely under-20 squad as they use the tournament as preparation for the World Rugby U20 Championship, which kicks off in South Africa in June.
Following three successive runners-up finishes between 2017-19, Junior Japan won the title for the first time in 2020, beating Fiji Warriors 21-12 in the decisive match in Suva.
Having waited three years, the teams will meet again in Apia on Wednesday and both squads are raring to go.
“There is great excitement building among the 28 players and staff as we assemble ahead of tournament,” Junior Japan head coach Rob Penney said.
“The players have participated in a rigorous selection process and have proved they are worthy to wear the red and white jersey of Japan.
“You can rest assured that everyone involved with the tournament will do their very best, both on and off the field to make Japan proud.
“It will be a great experience and hopefully prove to be a wonderful pathway for these future Brave Blossoms.”
Fiji Warriors will be coached by Senirusi Seruvakula, who led the Fijiana to Rugby World Cup 2021, and he is conscious of the importance of Wednesday’s opening match.
“The team is in high spirits as we wrapped up our preparation for game one with the captain’s run. The players look determined and are focused on delivering a better result against Junior Japan,” Seruvakula said.
“We are ready to take on Junior Japan and I’m confident we will go out there and put up a strong feat against a team which has been dominating the World Rugby Pacific Challenge in recent years.
“We have been working hard while in Fiji and we have set ourselves a goal that we have to achieve [on Wednesday].”
World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2023 fixtures
All matches to be played at Apia Park
Wednesday, 3 May
Junior Japan v Fiji Warriors, 12:30 local time (GMT+13)
Manuma Samoa v Tonga A, 16:00 local time
Monday, 8 May
Tonga A v Junior Japan, 12:30 local time
Manuma Samoa v Fiji Warriors, 16:00 local time
Saturday, 13 May
Fiji Warriors v Tonga A, 12:30 local time
Manuma Samoa v Junior Japan, 16:00 local time
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS