Pacific Islanders opt for exciting blend
September 21, 2006

Former Waikato, Chiefs and New Zealand Maori prop Deacon Manu has declared himself available for the Pacific Island rugby team's tour of the northern hemisphere in November.

A squad of 28 named today for the three-test tour also includes Auckland playmaker Tasese Lavea, who now looks set to play for Samoa in next year's World Cup.

Manu, who had resisted urges from Fiji to play for them in the hope of making the All Blacks, has finally shown interest to change allegiance now that he is playing in Wales.

Manu, 27 and who can play at either prop, was signed up by Llanelli Scarlets after this year's Super 14.

He had been reluctant to move anywhere earlier, harbouring the hopes of climbing beyond the New Zealand Maori team and All Blacks trials, but sensing that the All Blacks selectors were not showing too much interest in him, he has moved on.

His availability for the Pacific team is a major boost for the Fijian team for next year's World Cup, as the front row has been their weakest department in test rugby over the years.

"He has confirmed his availability to Fiji's coach (Wayne Pivac," Pacific team coach Pat Lam said.

"It's a good looking-team, it's the best we could have had," former Samoan captain Lam, who is Auckland's coach, said.

His assistant with the Auckland team, former All Black Shane Howarth, is the Pacific Islands' assistant coach as well.

Lam will assemble the talent-laden Pacific squad, made up of 12 Samoans, nine Fijians -- including the exciting Rupeni Caucaunibuca -- and seven Tongans in London on October 29th.

They play a warmup against the Harlequins on November 1 before tests against Wales (November 11), Scotland (November 18) and Ireland (November 26).

Lam, who played a lot of his rugby in Britain, said he was excited with the squad given to him.

"There's a lot of experienced players there, we've got the Fijian captain, the Tongan captain and the Samoan captain in the side," he said.

He said he wasn't worried about Caucaunibuca's disappearing or non-appearing acts which led to the Fiji Rugby Union suspending him for a year before cutting the suspension back to about nine months.

"Wayne Pivac has spoken to him -- like I said we have a lot of leadership in the side to ensure those sorts of things don't happen."

Former Blues winger Caucaunibuca, who has been playing club rugby in France but was ill in Fiji recently, has played just one full international since his electrifying performances at the 2003 World Cup.

"He's very keen to be a part of it and we're very happy to have him because he's a world-class player," Pacific Islanders Rugby Alliance chief executive Sakopo Lolohea said from Tonga today.

"The Fijians have told us he's available so that's why he's been picked."

Caucaunibuca was one of the stars of the last World Cup, scoring a try against France and two against Scotland, but has played just one test since after going to Europe to join French club Agen.

"This is an important tour for Pacific Islanders rugby. Not only do we want to expose our players to the sort of competition they'll face at next year's World Cup but we also want to promote the Pacific Islanders brand," Lolohea said.

"Not many people in Europe know a lot of about Pacific Islanders rugby and this is our chance to show them."

Despite being one of the great nurseries of world rugby, the South Pacific struggles to retain its best players because it cannot match the huge sums on offer in other parts of the world.

New Zealand and Australia have a long history of poaching players from the region.

The islanders will be led by Fijian captain Simon Raiwalui, who played in Wales before returning to Fiji.

Among the New Zealand-based players in the side are Taufa'ao Felise, Tevita Taumoepeau, Census Johnson, Aleki Lutui, Mahonri Schwagler, Nili Latu (Tonga), Junior Polu, Seilala Mapusua, Lome Fa'atau and Loki Crichton.

The squad is:
1. Deacon Manu (Fiji)
2. Taufa'ao Felise (Tonga)
3. Tevita Taumoepeau (Tonga)
4. Census Johnson (Samoa)
5. Aleki Lutui (Tonga)
6. Mahonri Schwagler (Samoa)
7. Simon Rawalui (Fiji) (Captain)
8. Daniel Leo (Samoa)
9. Maama Molitika (Tonga)
10. Isoa Domalailai (Fiji)
11. Epi Taione (Tonga)
12. Pila Vaki (Tonga)
13. Semo Setiti (Samoa)
14. Henry Tuilagi (Samoa)
15. Aca Ratouva (Fiji)
16. Nili Latu (Tonga)
17. Mosese Rauluni (Fiji)
18. Junior Polu (Samoa)
19. Seremaia Bai (Fiji)
20. Tasesa Lavea (Samoa)
21. Seilala Mapusua (Samoa)
22. Kameli Ratouva (Fiji)
23. Sailosi Tagicakibau (Samoa)
24. Lome Faatau (Samoa)
25. Rupeni Caucau (Fiji)
26. Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa)
27. Norman Ligari (Fiji)
28. Loki Crichton (Samoa)


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