Tonga, Fiji and Samoa are huge fan favourites in rugby, but the small Pacific Islands haven’t always had it easy. The three islands have a total of about one million people, but have some of the most naturally gifted rugby players in the world. Players like Taniela Tupou, Ken Pisi and Nemani Nadolo are all fantastic athletes who could be a part of any other national team.
The biggest problem that these small teams have is the curse of money. Or lack of. Whereas the likes of Gareth Bale gets paid €200,000 odd a week for having a ridiculous man-bun the guys that put their bodies on the line time and time again can’t pull enough cash together to compete.
In the lead up to the 2007 World Cup Tonga very nearly couldn’t prepare for the tournament because the IRB wouldn’t provide the funds needed. However, we here at Paddy Power have a soft spot for the underdogs so stumped up a bit. In return Epi Taione changed his name to Paddy Power for a bit of fun, but the IRB didn’t like that much and threatened to expel Tonga from the tournament. Instead the team dyed their hair green, but that was canned by the IRB as well (BOOO, IRB).
The Pacific Warriors is a movie that is out now for download on iTunes and is out on DVD about the history of the Pacific Island rugby. Paddy Power makes a cameo and – yes – it is an Oscar winning performance.
The film showcases the struggle the Islanders have had to face to play the game that they love. The film features interviews with Jonny Wilkinson, Sir Clive Woodward, Jason Robinson, Serge Betsen and Matt Giteau. Wilkinson described being hit by the players as like being in a car crash, but it was still preferable than playing at Kingston Park or spending time with Warren Gatland. Sir Clive, who lead England to victory in the World Cup in 2003, described them as some of the most naturally gifted players in the world.
In this year’s World Cup our favourite underdogs have some tough games. Fiji have the most difficult group with the Wallabies, England and Wales all in Pool A. Australia should leave with top spot fairly comfortably which leaves England, Wales and Fiji fighting it out for the second spot. As Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies are out injured, and England didn’t have a big warm up and may go in a little underprepared, Fiji have a decent chance to to upset the odds and finish second in the Pool. Fiji hit hard, offload well and run like Steve Bruce chasing a sausage roll.
The Samoans have the best chance of qualifying from their pool with South Africa and Scotland as their main opponents in Pool B. You would imagine South Africa to top that Pool with ease, but the Samoans should be able to beat Scotland because Scotland have a habit of being a bit shit when they’re expected to do OK in a tournament. The Samoans are the best team of the Islands and could do quite well in the tournament. Should they finish second in the group they face Australia (most likely) and they will rattle the Aussies to their tanned, Foster drinking cores. They will be no pushover and they have a good chance of beating anyone in the tournament.
Tonga are somewhere in the middle of their two Pacific neighbours. They have a difficult group, but they have a good chance to qualify. They have New Zealand and Argentina in Pool C and with the fairly safe assumption that New Zealand will win the Pool (but not the Cup itself) it leaves Argentina and Tonga to slug it out for the second spot. The Argentinians have had a decent warm up which included beating the Springboks, but the Tongans have the spirit and the sheer power that can destroy just about everything. The game between Argentina and Tonga will be an fantastic game that will decide who qualifies from the Pool. I reckon they might just shade it to set up a quarter final meeting with one of France or Ireland.