Premiership look to Pacific Islands side
Wednesday 05 November 2008
The Pacific Islanders will provide a familiar and ferocious challenge to Martin Johnson's new-look England team at Twickenham this weekend.
The Islanders' head coach Quddus Fielea today named a starting XV built around some of the most dangerous attacking talent from the Guinness Premiership and across Europe.
Their back division includes London Irish duo Seilala Mapusua, rated by many as the best centre currently on show in the Premiership, and devastating winger Sailosi Tagicakibau.
The Samoan powerhouses were both signed for London Irish by England's new attack coach Brian Smith and play their club rugby alongside red rose debutants Delon Armitage and Nick Kennedy.
Mapasua - a New Zealand Academy team-mate of opposite number and another England newcomer Riki Flutey - will link in the Pacific Islanders midfield with Leicester's powerful Fijian centre Seru Rabeni.
Saracens' lightning runner Kameli Ratuvou lines up at full-back with Vilimoni Delasau, who scored blistering tries for Fiji against Wales and South Africa in the World Cup, on the right wing.
With Saracens' canny scrum-half Mosese Rauluni captaining the team, fly-half Pierre Hola is the only member of the Islanders' back division not playing his club rugby in Europe.
Up front, Worcester hooker Aleki Lutui will pack down in between Glasgow prop Justin Va'a and Saracens' giant tight-head Census Johnson.
And the Islanders will unleash Tongan loose-forward pair Nili Latu and Finau Maka, who both caused havoc in the England and South African ranks during the World Cup.
The London Irish contingent of Mapasua, Tagicakibau, Armitage and Kennedy are firm friends and the banter has been flying back and forth this week.
Flutey is also in regular touch with the Samoans having spent his first two years in England with the Exiles before moving to Wasps at the start of last season.
"They are all good footballers," said Flutey.
"'Maps' is a very good friend who lives just down the road. The harder we play against each other, the more we respect each other."
Armitage is relishing the chance to sample a taste of Test match rugby - but he admitted Mapasua has done nothing to help calm his nerves.
"I'd had texts from the two guys who were saying before I was selected, 'You don't want to play against us!'," he said.
"They said they are going to put up some high balls for me early in the game.
"They are two great players and have been awesome in the Premiership for us, so it'll make it a tough game for England."
The Pacific Islanders comprise the cream of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa - three nations who made a lasting impression on the World Cup 12 months ago.
Fiji qualified for the quarter-finals with a remarkable 38-34 victory over Wales in a match rated as one of the best in World Cup history.
Tonga and Samoa both provided tough opposition in the group stages for England and South Africa - and the Springboks were then given a scare by Fiji in the semi-finals.
The Islanders, who have toured every two years since 2004, are yet to win a Test match.
They have only been together since Sunday night. England should be able to dominate at the set-piece but will know from their own Premiership and Heineken Cup experiences not to under-estimate the challenge ahead.
Islanders forwards coach Peter Fatialofa said: "The boys have gelled together well. We have a simple game plan that will rely on our forwards winning their fair share of possession.
"I am confident we will do the business and make our Pacific Island families back home very proud."
Pacific Islanders team to face England at Twickenham on Saturday (1430 GMT):
15-Kameli Ratuvou (Fiji), 14-Sailosi Tagicakibau (Samoa), 13-Seru Rabeni (Fiji), 12-Seilala Mapusua (Samoa), 11-Vilimoni Delasau (Fiji), 10-Pierre Hola (Tonga), 9-Mosese Rauluni (Fiji-captain); 8-Finau Maka (Tonga), 7-Nili Latu (Tonga), 6-Semisi Naevo (Fiji), 5-Kele Leawere (Fiji), 4-Filipo Levi (Samoa), 3-Census Johnston (Samoa), 2-Aleki Lutui (Tonga), 1-Justin Va'a (Samoa).
Replacements: 16-Sunia Koto (Fiji), 17-Kisi Pulu (Tonga), 18-Hale T-Pole (Tonga), 19-George Stowers (Samoa), 20-Sililo Martens (Tonga), 21-Seremaia Bai (Fiji), 22-Epi Taione (Tonga).
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