The recently completed Australian leg of the new-look IRB Pacific Rugby Cup saw the Fiji Warriors, Samoa A and Tonga A sides leave Australian shores for New Zealand with a bounce in their step.
The three Pacific Nations had the edge in the Australian Series winning five of their nine games, but face a completely different challenge with the competition now in full swing in New Zealand with matches against three Super Rugby development teams.
The Pacific Island teams won five and drew one of the nine matches on Australian soil against the Brumby Runners, QAS Reds Academy and Junior Waratahs with Samoa A and Fiji Warriors leading the race to be crowned 2011 champions with nine points, three more than Tonga A.
Samoa A and Fiji Warriors both enjoyed two victories while in Australia, while Tonga A drew with the Brumby Runners before getting their first win against the QAS Reds Academy in their final game.
All nine matches produced entertaining rugby with plenty of passion and commitment from all involved.
Brumby Runners 29 def Samoa A 13
QAS Reds 26 def by Fiji A 27
Junior Waratahs 28 def Tonga A 18
Junior Waratahs 12 def by Fiji A 15
Brumby Runners 22 drew Tonga A 22
QAS Reds 20 def by Samoa A 23
Junior Waratahs 12 def by Samoa A 35
QAS Reds 22 def by Tonga A 23
Brumby Runners 30 def Fiji Warriors 28
Last weekend the three Pacific Nations teams kicked off their tour of New Zealand against development sides from the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Chiefs.
After enjoying varied levels of success in Australia, the three sides were comprehensively beaten in their first outings on New Zealand shores.
The Hurricanes Development XV enjoyed a 33-0 win over Samoa A, the Chiefs Development XV beat Tonga A 50-13 and the Crusader Knights easily accounted for Fiji A 55-7.
William Glenwright, the IRB General Manager for Oceania, said he has been watching all the Pacific Rugby Cup action with interest.
“We are very pleased with the restructured Pacific Rugby Cup on a number of levels,” admitted Glenwright.
“It's the first real indication that we've had in our five year investment in High Performance Rugby in the Pacific Islands that the Licensed Training Centres that we have established are producing international quality players.
“Almost all of the players in the three teams have progressed through their respective High Performance Programmes and to compete with, let alone beat, the next generation of professional footballers in Australia, shows that we are on the right track.
“The feedback from all teams has been very positive. The Pacific Islands are loving the opportunity to test their best local players against such high quality opposition. With Australia and New Zealand no longer represented in the Pacific Nations Cup this is a unique opportunity for the Pacific island players to test themselves against players from two of the top rugby playing nations in the world.
“They are being exposed to some of the world's best professional team structures and staying in world class High Performance centres like the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and the Millennium Institute in Auckland. The peripheral benefits of the restructured PRC complement the direct rugby benefits that are derived from playing Academy teams from Super Rugby franchises.
“For the Australian and New Zealand based teams, the PRC is an opportunity for fringe Super Rugby players to stake a claim for selection in the top squad and already we are seeing a number of players being called up from the Academy teams into the Super Rugby teams."
Putting structures to the test
It is not only on the field that the Pacific Island teams have been gaining valuable experiences in their build up to Rugby World Cup 2011, but off it as well with team structures being put to the test which can only bode well for the future.
“The tight turnaround between games is also putting pressure on the off-field structures of the three teams and we're happy to see that,” explained Glenwright.
“The three teams have had to put a lot of work into their recovery and athlete management systems to ensure that the small time in between games is maximised and that there is a balance between recovery, travel, injury management and training.
“Whilst they won't play in another tournament as intensive as this, in terms of the number of matches within a confined window, the structure of the PRC does force the Unions to establish and test recovery protocols to use in bigger tournaments like the PNC and Rugby World Cup, where they may have a tight turn around between two games.
“After three games the Pacific Island teams will be feeling pretty sore and tired so they will really need to lift against fresh opposition. In that regard we will be watching the results in New Zealand with interest.”