By Campbell Burnes
FEARS THAT New Zealand’s Pacific Island Super Rugby players would be faced with a franchise versus country scenario during this year’s June international window are alleviated with the news that the Pacific Nations Cup will be shoehorned into a programme which includes midweek tests.
The expansion of Super Rugby into July/August has meant there is little room to manoeuvre for the international calendar, and a 15-day period – June 9-23 – has been earmarked for inbound tours to the SANZAR nations and Fiji and Samoa, plus the PNC, to be held in Japan, the defending champion.
Previously Super Rugby was done and dusted by the end of May or June, freeing up several weeks for either rest or internationals. That first option is now out if you want to play for your country in June.
The Pacific Island-eligible Super Rugby players in New Zealand are Tonga’s Siale Piutau (Highlanders) and Sona Taumalolo (Chiefs) and Samoa’s Mahonri Schwalger, Kane Thompson (both Chiefs) and Tusi Pisi (Hurricanes).
All are expected to be available, barring injury, for their nation’s June programme after concerns the PNC might have to stretch into July.
Scotland plays Fiji in Suva on June 16 and Samoa hosts the Scots in Apia on June 23. The players will then head back to their franchises for round 19 starting on June 29.
Piutau, who has missed early season action for the Highlanders due to an ankle injury, was one of the star centres at last year’s Rugby World Cup, and is keen to front in June for Tonga.
He hopes for more tests for the kingdom after it rose to ninth in the world on the back of the 19-14 RWC upset of France in Wellington.
“I’ve put my name down for Tonga for the future. We need (more games) for rugby growth in the South Pacific and Tonga,” he says.
Tonga was not able to meet costs for tests in June, so it will not host any matches, but will have just its allotment of three PNC tests.
Manu Samoa captain Schwalger says he is not thinking that far ahead, citing his age and possible negative ramifications from his report to the Samoan Prime Minister, which was damning towards team management and its conduct during the RWC.
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