Kiwis will test survival hope of Islands

Cook Islands will have to try and upset the odds when they play the second favourites for the World Cup at Reading's Madejski Stadium tonight. New Zealand scored 64 without reply against Lebanon in their opening Group Two game on Sunday and should comfortably see off their Pacific Island neighbours to book a quarter-final place. However, Stan Martin, the Cook Islands' coach, says the 1995 Emerging Nations champions will go out fighting in a match that will pit captain Kevin Iro against his former team-mates.

Cook Islands will have to try and upset the odds when they play the second favourites for the World Cup at Reading's Madejski Stadium tonight. New Zealand scored 64 without reply against Lebanon in their opening Group Two game on Sunday and should comfortably see off their Pacific Island neighbours to book a quarter-final place. However, Stan Martin, the Cook Islands' coach, says the 1995 Emerging Nations champions will go out fighting in a match that will pit captain Kevin Iro against his former team-mates.

"We're actually looking forward to it," said Martin. "We've got to win it if we want to stay here, so we're going out to win it. Realistically, it's going to be difficult but we're certainly not going to hold back."

Martin makes four changes to the starting line-up that lost 38-6 to Wales on Sunday. Meti Noovao comes in at loose forward and Tere Glassie, Peter Lewis and Michael Anderson are all promoted from the bench.

Wales take on Lebanon at Stradey Park, Llanelli, tonight and they are determined to clinch a quarter-final spot before they take on the Kiwis at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday. "We'd rather do it tomorrow than leave it to the game against New Zealand," said assistant coach Neil Kelly.

Wales, who have racked up 78 points in their last two internationals, are expected to be too strong for the Lebanese, who have been affected more than most by the bad weather with three of their players suffering mild hypothermia on Sunday.

However, the side is packed with experienced Australian league players and, in the Canterbury Bulldogs goalkicker Hazem El-Masri, nicknamed 'El Magic', they have one of the leading lights of the NRL.

South Africa's hopes of matching Papua New Guinea in their Group Three encounter in Toulouse have not been helped by the loss of their influential hooker Sean Skelton who yesterday underwent an operation to pin his thumb which was broken during Saturday's 66-18 loss to Tonga.

"This World Cup has to be seen as another stepping stone for the game in our country. We have to be realistic," said their coach Paul Matete.

"We were always expected to perform better in this tournament than we did in the 1995 World Cup and I maintain that we are doing so."

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