The Oceania Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process reaches a climax on Saturday. The cumulative points from the 2016 and 2017 World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) will determine which of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga will claim the two available qualifying spots.
When Samoa take to the field against Fiji at home in Apia on Saturday they know their Rugby World Cup qualification is in their own hands. Fiji has already qualified as Oceania 1 courtesy of an unbeaten 2016 PNC campaign and a 14-10 win over Tonga last weekend.
Win or draw and Samoa will qualify as Oceania 2 for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan ahead of Tonga. Lose and they will require a bonus point to bring them level on the same number of qualification points as Tonga. Then it will come down to which team has the better points differential (points scored and points conceded). If Samoa loses without a bonus point Tonga will qualify.
Click HERE for Oceania RWC 2019 Qualifying Standings
Also on the line at Apia Park is the 2017 World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title. Fiji is the reigning champion and can retain the title with a victory. However if Fiji stumble then Samoa could lift the title. It could also come down to bonus points and points differential to determine the title based on the outcome and score of the match.
Captains in Apia with PNC Trophy: David Lemi (Samoa) and Akapusi Qera (Fiji)
Fiji Head coach, John McKee, is keen to defend the PNC title and has selected a strong team for the match. Fiji is on a high after recent home wins over Italy and Scotland and last weekend’s victory over Tonga in Nuku’alofa albeit by a narrow four points.
"With the PNC up for grabs and Samoa desperate to qualify for RWC in this series we expect a very tough challenge on Saturday. We are very determined to defend the PNC title which we have held since 2015."
"The players must focus on getting small tasks right and executing our plays under pressure to win this match. We missed out on a couple of tries last week because we were not accurate in our finishing and the last pass let us down on occasions," added McKee.
For Tonga changes have been made in the forward pack and on the bench from the last match against Tonga which they lost 26-30. Elia Elia will make his first start of the series at hooker. Also making his first start after having to withdraw from the All Blacks match is Jack Lam who has worked hard on his recovery to take the open side flanker spot.
Head Coach, Namulauulu Alama Ieremia says "We have selected a team we believe can counter a strong Fijian side that will be full of confidence. We have had a couple of disruptions with players in and out, but the team has continued seamlessly with its preparations this week. The entire squad have rallied together strongly to ensure we can put our best performance forward after our narrow loss against Tonga".
RWC 2019 Qualification
As the Oceania 1 qualifier Fiji will be placed in Pool D in 2019 with Australia, Wales, Georgia and Americas 2. At the conclusion of the match in Apia, Samoa or Tonga will qualify as Oceania 2 for RWC 2019 in Japan and will be placed in Pool C with England, France, Argentina and USA.
The third-place team, either Samoa or Tonga (Oceania 3) will play-off against the second placed team in the Rugby Europe qualifying process (Europe 2) for a place as fifth seed in Pool A with Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Europe 1. The loser of this play-off will go into the repechage tournament for the chance to win the final qualification position in Pool B, facing New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Africa 1. The repechage will comprise Oceania 3 or Europe 2, Africa 2 and Americas 3, plus the winner of a two-match series between Oceania 4 (2017 Oceania Cup winner: Cook Islands or Tahiti) and Asia 1.