The Pacific Nations (Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Japan) attract a lot of attention when the World Cup comes along. However, they’ve generally struggled to upset the odds when the tournament begins. Fiji last made the knockouts in 2007, Samoa in 1999, Tonga never have, and Japan have done it just once, at home, four years ago.

This year a corner looks to have been turned. World Rugby changed eligibility laws and now players who made international debuts elsewhere, often for the All Blacks, are returning to their home countries. Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita, and George Moala will feature for Tonga having previously worn the silver fern. This has changed the complexion of the World Cup as these teams, previously denuded of top talents, now have more strength than ever before. But is it enough to see any of them make it out of the groups?

Pacific Nations

Fiji’s wing Jiuta Wainiqolo (Getty Images)


For a long time, Fiji have been the best of the traditional Pacific Islanders (plus Samoa and Tonga). Four years ago, though they lost to Uruguay in the tournament’s biggest upset. They also failed to cause their own upset as Wales and Australia secured victory. That left them with the ultimate knocking-on-Tier-One’s-door match-up with Georgia. They dominated that 45-10. 

Fiji have often had a bark much worse than their bite. They are, understandably, feared by teams but have struggled to take many Tier One scalps. They’ve won just twice against Australia in 22 goes, once against Wales in 13, and one win over France. That has often been down to the fact that they are lacking in key areas, namely, the set-piece, fly-half, and an exciting but often reckless desire to attack from deep. Those elements aren’t yet fixed but they are average now rather than significantly below average.

The challenge for Fiji has been that for all their hard running, obscene offloading, and frankly terrifying pace, they struggle to unlock a well-drilled and well-set defence. The Fijian Drua, admittedly lacking some of Fiji’s elite talents, are a prime example. They have incredible metres carried and defenders beaten stats, but they scored 54 tries, the fourth lowest in Super Rugby. A lot of those stats were padded by carrying from deep when more pragmatic teams would have hoofed the ball away and played for territory.

However, this year feels different. Fiji swept the Pacific Nations Cup before losing 34-17 to a near enough full-strength France. That offers as much comfort as it offers a sign of their limitations. Fiji don’t need to beat France at this World Cup though. The much-criticised World Cup draw has given them the easiest path to the knockouts that they could’ve wished for. They need to get ahead of Australian and Welsh sides who look as bad as they have in the last five years. Once through they are likely to face either Argentina or England, both teams who they would fancy a result against.

The floor is yours Fiji, time to make the most of it!

Kazuki Himeno

Kazuki Himeno of Japan waves to fans (Getty Images)


For all the talk of the fearsome Tongans, Fijians and Samoans, it’s arguably the Japanese who have been the best side of the four at World Cups. They took a Tier One scalp in 2015, South Africa, then two more in 2019 to easily escape their group. If you haven’t been following Japan’s progress since then, it’s understandable to see it’s a World Cup year and expect more of the same.

Sadly, this Japan side are on the way down. They played all three games of the Pacific Nations Cup at home and lost two of them. Their only victory a five-point nail biter over Tonga. This drop in form isn’t new though, since they hosted the World Cup they have beaten only Uruguay (twice) and Portugal. Tier One opposition has been easy to find but they’ve struggled to cause more than close calls.

They too have a relatively easy pool with England, Argentina, Samoa, and Chile. But, the prediction as it stands currently would have them only beating Chile. That would be a disappointing drop for a team who have really dominated, at least in the social conscience, the last two World Cups. Few neutrals would begrudge the ageing warriors; Michael Leitch or Shota Horie one last shot at glory. 

Samoa into top ten

Samoa’s Tumua Manu celebrates a try (Getty Images)


Samoa haven’t qualified for a knock-out stage of the World Cup since they were Western Samoa. More pressingly, they have started to fall behind Fiji and arguably alongside Japan in recent years. The big change of late has been the reintroduction of players like Lima Sopoaga, Steven Luatua, or Ben Lam. Plus the relatively recent international capping of Brian Alainu’uese or Jordan Taufua.

The issue is a copy and paste of Fiji. They have stockpiled talent in some areas whereas others lay bare. The second row and back row for example are full of elite level players. Scrum-half on the other hand has limited quality or experience. Ben Lam is a real talent on the wing but generally that’s another area where depth is lacking. 

Samoa have beaten Tonga well in recent years and actually beat Fiji in July 2022. Their build-up has featured fewer major nations but victories over Romania and Georgia in 2022 have at least kept the confidence flowing while Japan have suffered loss after loss against elite sides.  

Once again, Samoa are a nation who have benefited from an easier draw. Wins against Japan and Chile would hit expectations. But, England, and to a lesser extent Argentina, are prone to the threat of Samoa. The key will be to draw on that pragmatism. The way England are playing at the moment, they are vulnerable if an opponent doesn’t make mistakes and cough up easy possession. Think about how they took apart Italy in the first half. That was a match where many thought Italy stood a good chance, but they made errors and England were clear before Italy felt they were in the game. Samoa need to avoid that. The longer the game is tight, the more nervous England will become.

PAcific Nations

Tonga face Canada (Getty Images)


In many ways Tonga are the odd ones out of these four. The stereotypical Pacific Islander playing style just doesn’t apply to them. They kick a lot and they scrummage well. That playing style often confuses as underprepared commentators wonder why they’re not offloading in their own 22.

Four years ago, Tonga struggled against England and Argentina. But came within two points of beating France, even if a late try made the score look closer than it was. They then beat the US, even if a late try made the score look better than it was. The years that followed were tough. They were beaten 102-0 by the All Blacks in a controversial match, beaten by Romania, and swept by Fiji, Samoa, and Australia A in the 2022 Pacific Nations Cup. 

This last year has been much better. Admittedly their wins have been against weaker opposition, but they’ve packed them in. After their poor Pacific Nations Cup they went and beat Canada twice for a combined scoreline of 64-15. 

Tonga reaching the knockouts would be a far greater upset than any of the other three doing it. They have the harder group and par would be victory over Romania and staying in the game until at least the hour mark against South Africa, Ireland, and Scotland. Those returning players will have higher expectations though. A well-motivated and tactically savvy Tonga can cause significant headaches for the other three teams.

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