This year’s tournament is noticeably lacking Samoa, who are instead competing in a quadrangular tournament in South Africa with the Boks, Italy and Scotland. With some high profile players also unavailable to their respective countries, this tournament has largely gone under the radar, drowned in a sea of Lions obsession! Indeed, the lack of support and leverage for the Pacific nations (particularly Fiji) has hindered the development of these teams – which makes the success of both Samoa and Tonga in the last three years even more remarkable. Nevertheless, the 2013 Pacific Nations Cup is a small step in the right direction and will provide a number of intriguing match-ups which will showcase some young, up-and-coming talent. The addition of Canada and USA also adds to the dynamics of a tournament that provides a huge opportunity for youngsters to impress.
Michael Leitch (24) Japan, Openside Flanker/Lock
Many readers may remember the fine contributions of Michael Leitch during the 2011 World Cup where he rightfully won rave reviews for his performances against some of the bigger, first tier nations. Leitch has an interesting and compelling back story; born and bred in Christchurch, he left New Zealand for Japan at the tender age of 15 to study and ended up finding a conduit for his latent talent in the land of the rising sun. The ‘RR’ laments that Leitch, who decided to return to New Zealand this year to have a crack at Super Rugby with the Chiefs, has been dogged by injury and has yet to feature, even more frustrating given the Chiefs’ injury woes. One should be warned before extending the mercenary label to Leitch, he speaks fluent Japanese and is married to a Japanese woman and has undoubtedly risen to be the heart and soul of the cherry blossoms. His strength is in his versatility. He is a decent size which means he can also play lock and his style of play is abrasive and smart – he leads from the front and rarely takes a backwards step.
Taylor Paris (20) Canada, Wing
Anyone who frequently watches the IRB international sevens circuit will be extremely familiar with Paris who has been turning out for the Canadians (one of the more impressive and consistent sevens teams at the moment) intermittently over the last 4 years. His prodigious talents saw him snapped up by Glasgow. However, given the depth of talent currently playing for the Warriors, Paris has stayed on the Sevens circuit so far in 2013 and only turned out twice for the Warriors (scoring one try). Paris is that rare type of talent that sometimes emerges from the smaller nations; he has the skills and nous not often associated with these teams. Add to that his obvious pace and he has the raw ingredients for turning himself into a long-term Canadian stalwart. The RR expect Paris to kick on in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup. The time is right for him to become a focal point of this Canadian team and perhaps secure himself a spot with Warriors for the 2013/14 season.
John Quill (22) USA, Openside Flanker
Irish born Quill will not be familiar to many people outside of the USA or Munster rugby circles but he has quietly started to make a reputation for himself, both good and bad. In Quill’s fledgling international career to date, he has won rave reviews for his intensity and strength but has also incredibly received two red cards in five matches. Regardless, Quill represents one of the most exciting talents currently involved in the Eagles set up. Testament to this is his displacement of Todd Clever as starting 7 (Clever has consequently moved to number 8). Quill’s emergence is a nice turn of fortune for the Eagles, as they have secured a player of pedigree who represented Ireland at youth level and also played for Munster A and Dolphin RFC, excelling in the All-Ireland League (incredibly a top try scorer in two seasons for Dolphin). If he can control his temper without compromising his natural aggressive play, Quill could be a real dark horse player in the Pacific Nations Cup.
Viliame Iongi (23) Tonga, Wing
Iongi caught the eye a couple of seasons ago in the 2011 Pacific Nations Cup where his serious express pace embarrassed a number of defenders. He failed to do the same at the Rugby World Cup later that year, not unexpected of a young, raw talent like Iongi. Nevertheless he was snapped up by Scarlets where he scored an impressive four tries in his first four matches. However, Iongi’s career in Wales has stalled somewhat and he received scant game-time in this year’s RaboDirect Pro12 competition. This last point is emblematic of Iongi’s career to date. Simply put Iongi is an incredibly mercurial player who often mixes the sublime with the absurd (check youtube for plentiful examples of both). The RR believes that if Iongi can produce more Jekyll than Hyde then he will be a weapon for Tonga and the Scarlets (although most likely another team) in the years to come. The Pacific Nations Cup presents an ideal opportunity for Iongi to get back on the right path to reaching his obvious potential.
Josh Matavesi (22) Fiji, Centre/Utility
All the hoopla surrounding the Fijian squad announcement has focussed on the selection of Josh’s brother Sam Matavesi who was plucked from the relative obscurity of 5 first team appearances for Plymouth Albion in the RFU Championship. Incidentally, Josh was similarly blooded by Fiji as a 19 year old in 2009. The English born and raised Matavesi brothers look like they could become regulars in Fijian squads for the next decade. However, as it currently stands, it appears as if Josh is ready to make an impact for the Flying Fijians. Signed by Worcester for the 2012-13 season, Matavesi managed two tries in 13 starts but his fine play was overshadowed by a brutal high tackle which saw him banned for two matches. Matavesi brings the x-factor expected of a Fijian back; he has nice feet and is a constant source of line-breaks, offloads and crunching tackles. His play-making ability and surprising kicking acumen means that he has rare utility value and could conceivably line up anywhere from 10-15.
Has RR overlooked any talented players in his latest report? Comments below…