It will be a battle of the No 8 on Saturday, when the Maori All Blacks take on the Flying Fijians at ANZ Stadium in Suva. With a Viliame Mata and Akira Ioane showdown looming, big clashes are on the horizon for Pacifica rugby fans.
Former Olympic Gold rugby sevens medalist Viliame Mata had an outstanding season with Edinburgh in the Guinness Pro 14 competition, with his opposite number eight Akira Ioane also having a great season, with his Blues Super Rugby team. It makes for an enormous clash, when the two power-forwards face off Saturday afternoon.
The two former Sevens stars will battle it out from the back of the scrum. Each looking to be the game-changer, and that will be a vital outcome of the opening game of the two-game series.
Viliame Mata and Akira Ioane showdown looms in Fiji
Adding to the experience of skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu in the back row is Viliame Mata, who is really developing as a world-class number eight. Those two are supported by Semi Kunatani, who “although not the typical backrow player, will add more firepower in the team,” John McKee was quoted on fijirugby.com.
The hosts are in preparations for a ‘full International rugby calendar’ of fixtures in July, beginning with the NZ Maori, with a return match in Rotorua, before competing in the Pacific Nations Cup.
To match the Flying Fijian adventurous style, will be an All Blacks Maori side, with players that are on the fringe of the national side – including Akira Ione.
Ioane has a point to prove with the All Blacks selectors and will be giving it 100%, as will the rest of the Maori boys who missed out on All Blacks selection. This includes Chiefs scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
Both coaches have named strong squads with all focus on the hosts Fiji, with the world watching as to what the highly-ranked side will dish out, after their historic victory over France last November.
Vatubua and Radradra omission unearths new center pairing
With Semi Radradra, Jale Vatubua and Josh Matavesi struggling with niggling injuries, it has opened the door for former Sevens stars Levani Botia and Waisea Nayacalevu to show if they deserve the trip to Japan in September. They will be tested heavily by the world-class Maori All Blacks center pairing of Teihorangi Walden and Rob Thompson.
“It’s good to see Waisea Nayacalevu back in the Flying Fijians colours. He has been out of the group for couple of campaigns now due to some untimely injuries over the past two European seasons,” head coach John McKee explained to Fiji Rugby media this week.
In other match-ups, elusive London Irish fullback Alivereti Veitokani will be up against the Highlanders utility back, Fletcher Smith. Eroni ‘Sledgehammer’ Sau will be on the wing with Josua Tuisova, up against Chiefs duo Sean Wainui and Scott Stevenson.
Melbourne Rebels bound halfback Frank Lomani and Racing Metro’s Ben Volavola will be the halves combination. Opposing them are Otere Black from the Blues at flyhalf, with Tahuriorangi at halfback, in key positional challenges that will make for an exciting game.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) July 11, 2019
Ioane will lead the Maori loose-trio, with Chiefs Mitch Karpik and Hurricanes blindside flanker, Reed Prinsep.
Viliame Mata, together with Fiji captain Dom Waqaniburotu will lead the Fijian International quality loose-trio, who will be able to look Akira Ioane and his Maori teammates directly in the eye.
European MVP Nakarawa to star for host nation
To top-off their quality in 2019, arguably one the best lock forwards in the world, Leone Nakarawa will lead the Flying Fijians tight five. Besides him, London Irish lock Albert Tuisue, prop forwards Manasa Saulo, Peni Ravai with Sam Matavesi at the rake, will all look to show their best. They make-up a group who will be both offensive and mobile, in the first fixture of a busy International season for Fiji.
They will be up against Isaiah Walker-Leawere; the son of former Fijian lock forward Kele Leawere. He will partner the experienced Tom Franklin, with props Ross Wright and Tyrell Lomax and proud Maori player Ash Dixon, leading the pack at hooker.
Both teams have good benches to call on with the hosts Fiji likely the favorites at home.
It will be exciting, thrilling and possibly an unorthodox encounter at times, with players across the park who want to keep the ball alive yet, with the experience of Super Rugby/European rugby, to give balance to the mix of flair and firepower.
The clash between Viliame Mata and Akira Ioane is just one head-to-head, which is worth tuning in for alone.
It all adds to the recipe for a great international game in suva.
Fiji Airways ‘Flying Fijians’ squad:
- Peni Ravai
- Sam Matavesi
- Manasa Saulo
- Albert Tuisue
- Leone Nakarawa
- Dominiko Waqaniburotu
- Semi Kunatani
- Viliame Mata
- Frank Lomani
- Ben Volavola
- Eroni Sau
- Lepani Botia
- Waisea Nayacalevu
- Josua Tuisova
- Alivereti Veitokani
Reserves – Mesulame Dolokoto, Eroni Mawi, Kalivati Tawake, Api Ratuniyarawa, Nemani Nagusa, Henry Seniloli, Sevanaia Galala, and Patrick Osbourne.
Fiji v Maori All Blacks – Saturday, July 14
The teams then face each other in Rotorua, New Zealand a week later, before Fiji start their Pacific Nations Cup season. All leading towards the ultimate goal for Fiji in September – the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
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