IRB Pacific Nations Cup
Pacific Nations Cup ready for kick-off
ESPNscrum Staff
July 1, 2011
Nicky Little kicks for goal, Wales v Fiji, Narbonne, France, September 29, 2007
Fiji will turn to Nicky Little for guidance as the fly-half makes his first apperance for the national side since the 2007 RWC © Getty Images

The 2011 IRB Pacific Nations Cup kicks off this weekend with Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and Japan looking to step up their preparations for this year's Rugby World Cup.

The tournament, set to be contested July 2-13, was originally due to be hosted in Japan, but following the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country in March, it will now be predominantly hosted in Fiji. The action gets underway on Saturday with Japan playing host to Samoa in Tokyo with Fiji tackling Tonga in Lautoka.

Samoa took the honours last year but they lost to Japan on the way to the title - and the Brave Blossoms' coach John Kirwan is hoping for a repeat performance at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium. "We've had one month of the Asian 5 Nations, then we had a 10-day camp and now we have the Pacific Nations Cup, which has been incredibly good for us," said Kirwan. "We're playing teams above us in the rankings, physical matches and it's really helped us.

"Last year we had two wins against Samoa and Tonga and our whole life revolved around PNC. We wanted to win it and we wanted to perform in it. This year I need to be a little careful just to keep my eye on the World Cup, so I need to take a few risks and play some people who need to play to see if they can take that step up."

Fiji will face Tonga at Churchill Park in the first of three scheduled clashes before the World Cup with two further warm-up matches scheduled for August. Tonga failed to win a game in the 2010 competition but were involved in the pick of the matches that saw them squander a 31-0 lead against Fiji on their way to a 41-38 defeat.

Tonga lead the head-to-head stats with three wins to Fiji's two but the Fijians' hopes have been boosted by the return of their all time top points-scorer Nicky Little. The 34-year-old has not played any international rugby since breaking his leg in Fiji's outstanding win against Wales at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, but his steady game could still be key to Fijian success.

Lining up for Fiji following a tough domestic season are the likes of Racing Metro's Albert Vulivuli, Toulon's Gabriel Lovobalavu and young Clermont fullback Kini Murimuivalu. Fiji coach Sam Domoni has made it clear he expects better from his side. "Tonga will be physical and we cannot afford what we did last year," Domoni said. "We have to be on our toes from the start."

Tonga enter the competition fresh from this year's Churchill Cup where they thrashed the United States before losing to Italy 'A' in the Plate Final. The likes of Kurt and Daniel Morath will be key to Tongan success, along with Alipate Fatafehi, Semisi Telefoni, Kisi Pulu, Viliami Ma'afu and Taufa'ao Filise.

Pacific Nations Cup Fixtures:
July 2, 2011 - Japan v Samoa, Tokyo, Japan
July 2, 2011 - Fiji v Tonga, Lautoka, Fiji
July 9, 2011 - Tonga v Japan, Suva, Fiji
July 9, 2011 - Samoa v Fiji, Suva, Fiji
July 13, 2011 - Tonga v Samoa, Lautoka, Fiji
July 13, 2011 - Japan v Fiji, Lautoka, Fiji

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