Samoa snub Pacific Cup

Fri, 24 May 2013 09:30

Defending Pacific Nations Cup champions Samoa have opted out of the tournament in favour of playing in a tougher tournament in South Africa.

The United States and Canada will debut this week in a new-look Pacific Nations Cup which is extending far, far beyond its original boundaries.

The newcomers will face off in Edmonton, Canada, on Saturday in what is seen as a boost for rugby's "second tier" nations as the sport expands outside its traditional heartlands.

Also on Saturday, but 15 time zones away in Yokohama, Japan will open the tournament against Tonga. Five of the round-robin event's 10 games, which wrap up on June 23, are in Japan.

Of the original contestants in the tournament, which started in 2006, Fiji also remain. However, Samoa are skipping it in order to face South Africa, Italy and Scotland in a quadrangular tournament.

Japan, fresh from cantering to a sixth straight Asian Five Nations title, have bolstered their squad with the recall of senior internationals in hooker Shota Horie, scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka and naturalised flanker Michael Leitch.

Horie and Tanaka have both started games in recent weeks for Super Rugby's Melbourne Rebels and Highlanders, respectively, while Leitch has been in New Zealand as part of the Chiefs' expanded squad.

Japan coach Eddie Jones, the former Australia handler, is also preparing for the two home Tests against Wales next month.

"After the successful Asian Five Nations, we have now picked a squad that we believe can win the Pacific Nations Cup and beat Wales. We're looking forward to having Horie, Leitch and Tanaka back after Super Rugby.

"We realise that we need to keep working very hard on our strength and conditioning and the way we play the game," said Jones.

Much attention on the opening weekend, however, will focus on Edmonton, where Canada and the United States will use their North American derby as preparation for upcoming 2015 World Cup qualifiers.

Canada coach Gareth Rees called it "a top-notch opportunity to tune up for World Cup qualifying".

"It's very important. First of all, it's a cup in itself. We want to lift the trophy at the end of the day. It's important to get our team playing well together and winning these matches," said Rees.

Games will also be played in Fiji's Lautoka, Nepean and Kingston in Canada and Carson, California, before the tournament ends with two double-headers in Nagoya and Tokyo during the final week.