In the first of a series of articles, we will be compiling teams of the best imports to the English Premiership. First, a XV of Premiership Pacific Islanders featuring the best from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
These players have been selected on the strength of their contributions to their club/clubs whilst in the Premiership, rather than their reputation built elsewhere or before/after they came to England.
All-time Premiership Pacific Islanders XV
15. Telusa Veainu
Leicester has had a long-running connection with Samoa thanks to the Tuilagi family, but currently it is Tongan Telusa Veainu who is flying the flag for the Pacific Islands at Welford Road. He has dazzled everyone with his astoundingly quick footwork and ability to break multiple tackles and gain significant ground from fullback.
Veainu joined Leicester in 2015 after a rather nomadic career in New Zealand and Australia. His performances in the 2015 World Cup persuaded Tigers to bring him over and they were vindicated, with Veainu named the supporters’ Player of the Year in his first season. He has scored 32 tries and reached double figures in two seasons to date.
14. Vereniki Goneva
Goneva is now at his third English club in Harlequins, but his contribution to Leicester and then Newcastle makes him a simple choice for the Premiership Pacific Islanders XV. Plucked from ProD2 in France, Goneva won the Premiership in his first season for Leicester. Unfortunately, it was after this that Leicester’s decline started. He eventually left fro Newcastle Falcons in 2016.
Combining with fellow Pacific Islander Sinoti Sinoti on the wings, Goneva helped the Falcons reach fourth place in 2018. His contribution was so great he was named 2017-18 Aviva Premiership player of the season.
13. Seilala Mapusua
London Irish have had a number of Pacific Islanders down the years but Seilala Mapusua is one who will be remembered fondly. He joined in 2006 when Irish were fighting at the top end of the table. He was part of the team that came within a point of winning the Premiership in 2009 when he was named PRA Players’ Player of the Season. The season before he also played his part as the Exiles reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
12. Terry Fanolua
An early import into the Premiership, Fanolua joined Gloucester in 1997 and become a solid fan favourite at Kingsholm. He went on to make over 200 appearances for the club in nearly ten years. Fanoloa represented Samoa in two World Cups and was part of the team that famously beat Wales in 1999 in Cardiff.
Fanolua has a very strong connection to the West Country even after leaving Gloucester; he saw out his career with Hartpury RFC and is now Community Development Manager for the Cherry and Whites.
11. Alesana Tuilagi
It wouldn’t be a Premiership Pacific Islanders team without a Tuilagi featuring somewhere. Alesana “Alex” Tuilagi was a key cog in the Leicester side that consistently reached the Premiership final every year in the mid-2000s. Alongside Seru Rebeni he notably bulldozed Gloucester in the 2007 final and was the central reason that the Cherry and Whites subsequently brought Lesley Vainikolo over from rugby league.
In total, Tuilagi won three Premiership titles whilst at Leicester and he also played for Newcastle Falcons before retiring in 2017.
10. Nicky Little
Fly-half has often been an issue for Pacific Island teams, but one of the standout 10s in the last 20 years has been Nicky Little. The 71-cap Fiji international spent a large amount of his career in England. Beginning at Sale, his longest stint was at Saracens from 2002-2006 and he also spent time at Bristol and Bath towards the end of his playing days.
Little was part of the Fiji team who made the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals, although he actually missed the quarter-final match due to injury. In total Little went to four World Cups between 1999 and 2011.
9. Kahn Fotuali’i
Fotuali’i recently left England after six successful years with Northampton and then Bath. He joined the Saints from Ospreys and started in the 2014 Premiership final, in which Northampton overcame Saracens.
Despite being well into his 30s when he arrived at The Rec, Fotuali’i was still a matchday regular until he joined Montpellier last year.
With so many to choose from, the replacements bench has been expanded to include six backs.
- David Lemi – Bristol, Worcester Warriors
- Sailosi Tagicakibau – London Irish
- Seru Rabeni – Leicester Tigers
- Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu – Bath, Gloucester
- George Pisi – Northampton Saints
- Ahsee Tuala – Northampton Saints
- Sonatane Takalua – Newcastle Falcons
Is your favourite missing from this team? Let us know on @LWOSRugby or on Facebook.
The Premiership Pacific Islanders forwards selection will follow shortly.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images