Fiji marks their centenary with host of celebrations

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    30 Dec 2013     Getty Images

As the great Waisale Serevi was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame, his compatriots rallied from 19-0 down to beat Wales and claim the Hong Kong Sevens, and in the 15-man game they performed arguably even greater heroics in winning the IRB Pacific Nations Cup for the first time.

The PNC triumph was described as “a touching achievement” by captain Akapusi Qera and followed a 34-21 victory over Tonga on the final day, and had looked unlikely coming into the final weekend's play.

With the Samoans taking a sabbatical from the tournament to play in South Africa with the Springboks, Scotland and Italy, the Fijians lined up against Tonga, Japan, USA and Canada and were one of three teams in contention heading into the final day. A win or a high-scoring draw would be enough for Fiji, while Tonga could still claim the title with a win and a low-scoring draw would hand to Cup to Canada.

It was an exciting climax to a tournament which featured matches in four countries – Canada, Fiji, USA and Japan – with Japan coach Eddie Jones happy that “the physical nature of Canada and USA plus the Pacific flair of Fiji and Tonga makes for a compelling tournament.”

The Brave Blossoms, who had beaten Fiji to the title in 2012, had the honour of hosting the first match in Yokohama on 25 June, the first ever Test match in the city where rugby was first played in Japan. However, their hopes of setting a new record of seven consecutive Test victories were ended by Tonga, who ran in four tries at the Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium to win 27-17.

Later that same day, nearly 5,000 miles away, Canada and USA made their PNC debut at a wet and windy Ellerslie Rugby Park in Edmonton, Canada winning 16-9 with John Moonlight scoring the only try.

Japan then travelled to Lautoka to face Fiji in a match which saw wing Hirotoki Onozawa win his 80th cap to become his country’s most capped player. Fiji ran out 22-8 winners, wing Sireli Bobo taking just 33 seconds to announce his return to the international stage after a three-year absence to score the opening try.

While Japan returned home to prepare for a two-Test series with Six Nations champions Wales, Fiji headed straight to North America to face Canada four days later. Canada took the match to their visitors and captain Aaron Carpenter scored the first try, breaking Al Charron’s national record for the most Test tries by a forward. Fiji’s powerful runners found it difficult to find a way through the resolute Canadian defence and despite Qera’s try making for a nerve-racking end to the match, it was the hosts who ran out 20-18 winners to remain unbeaten after two matches, and beat Fiji for the first time since 1995.

And just three days later Canada were on duty again. Barely had they had time to celebrate when they were back in action against Tonga in Kingston, full back James Pritchard scoring 23 points in a 36-27 victory to allow the Cannucks to take a breather with a six-point lead at the top of the standings.

Tonga headed to California where they beat the USA Eagles 18-9 and the teams then headed to Japan for the climax of the competition with double headers in Nagoya and Tokyo. Fiji did all they could do to keep their title hopes alive with a bonus point, 35-10 victory over the winless USA, but Japan’s 16-13 against Canada denied them the overall tournament title, keeping alive Fiji’s hopes.

In the end Fiji recovered from an early 11-0 deficit against Tonga to match Canada’s record of three wins and one defeat in the competition, and with four bonus points to Canada’s one they took the trophy home to the Pacific Islands for the third time in four years.