2011 Pacific Nations Cup Preview
Now in its sixth year, the International Rugby Board (IRB) funded IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2011 involves the three island nations Fiji, Samoa and Tonga along with Japan.
In 2006 this tournament kicked off as the IRB Pacific Five Nations and involved Fiji, Japan, the Junior All Blacks, Samoa and Tonga. Australia A joined the competition in 2007 and the tournament name changed to its present moniker of Pacific Nations Cup. The same format was maintained for 2008 with the exception being the New Zealand Maori were the New Zealand representative side rather than the Junior All Blacks.
In 2009, the Junior All Blacks replaced the New Zealand Maori as the New Zealand representative team, while Australia A did not participate. The 2009 tournament was condensed with the majority of the games played in Fiji rather than the home and away format of the three previous years. Also in 2009, ANZ (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group) came on board as the presenting sponsor for the tournament.
In 2010, Fiji, Japan, Samoa and Tonga took part in the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup 2010. Except for the opening game between Fiji and Japan at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji, Samoa and the Samoan Rugby Union hosted the 2010 competition with the remaining five games played at Apia Park in the capital city of Apia. With the tournament again largely hosted in one country, refereeing and coaching workshops along with junior rugby clinics took place across the two week duration of the event. This was the first time for Samoa to host a major international 15-a-side rugby tournament and the occasion was a fillip for Samoa after the 2009 Samoa Earthquake, an 8.1M submarine earthquake and resulting tsunami struck the area on 29 September causing significant damage and loss of life across the region.
This year, the IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2011 was originally slated to be hosted in Japan. However, the magnitude 9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake that struck off the coast of north-eastern Japan on the afternoon of 11 March along with the resultant tsunami and nuclear accident at the Fukushima Number One Nuclear Power Plant changed everything.
On 26 April 2011, the Japan Rugby Football Union announced that except for the opening game between Japan and Samoa on 2 July, the IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2011 would be moved from Japan to Fiji. As a result of the ongoing situation in Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake it was decided that the remaining five games would be played in Fiji. The JRFU made the decision in consultation with the International Rugby Board with Tatsuzo Yabe, chairman of the JRFU making the comment, “It is extremely unfortunate, but it cannot be helped.” On 9 May 2011, the IRB announced the revised schedule for the IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2011.
With 2011 being an IRB Rugby World Cup year, the IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2011 looks set to be one of the most competitive tournaments to date. In the IRB World Rankings (27 June 2011), Fiji are currently ranked the highest in tenth place on 74.05 ratings points closely followed by Samoa one place behind on 74.02 points. Japan are the next best side in thirteenth place on 71.45 points while Tonga are in sixteenth place on 68.90 points. Thus, with coaches trying to streamline their final squads for the World Cup in New Zealand starting in early September everyone concerned will be out to impress in an effort to book their seat on the plane to the big event.
Samoa. After the New Zealand representative sides had won all four previous titles, Samoa etched their name on the trophy for the first time. Samoa left it till the last game against Fiji to win the crown when they won 31-9 with a bonus point while denying Fiji any form of bonus point in the process. Both sides finished on nine points but Samoa took the title on a better points differential. Japan finished third on 8 points after picking up two wins for the first time while Tonga finished last on four points with three losses.
The Junior All Blacks. The JAB again took the PNC title undefeated on 19 points. Fiji were runner-up on 14 points followed by Samoa on 12 points, while Japan finished fourth on 6 points with one win and three losses. Tonga took the wooden spoon on one point.
The New Zealand Maori. The Maori took the PNC title undefeated with 21 points when they beat Australia A 21-18 in the final game in Sydney. Australia A finished runner-up on 20 points. Japan finished fifth on 7 points with one win and four losses.
The Junior All Blacks. The JAB took the PNC title undefeated with 25 points garnering maximum points in each game. Australia A finished a distant runner-up on 16 points after they lost to the JAB and drew with Fiji. Japan finished last on 4 points with one win and four losses.
The Junior All Blacks. The JAB took the P5N title undefeated with 20 points with maximum points in each game. Japan finished last on 0 points with four losses.