The best up-and-coming international players from the Pacific Islands and Japan will be in action next month when the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2018 kicks off.
Fiji Warriors, Junior Japan, Samoa A and Tonga A will compete for the coveted trophy over three rounds on 9, 13 and 17 March. The winner will be determined by competition points.
In its 11th year, the World Rugby-funded tournament is a proven player development platform in the Pacific Islands, delivering a high-performance pathway for a core group of under-23 players from domestic to international rugby.
Fiji national team captain Akapusi Qera, fellow Fijians Peni Ravi and Manasa Saulo, Tongans Tevita Halafonua and Sione Kalamafoni, Samoans Logovi’i Mulipola, Ofisa Treviranus and Alafoti Faosaliva and Japan’s Kenki Fukuoka are among the stars to have graduated from the competition to play test rugby.
World Rugby has increased its investment to more than £20.3 million in Pacific Islands rugby within the 2016-19 investment cycle, an increase of 19 per cent on the previous cycle. Such investment underwrites this competition and union high-performance programmes geared towards supporting elite player development pathways assisting preparation between Rugby World Cups.
World Rugby Head of Competitions and Performance Mark Egan said: “World Rugby is committed to providing a meaningful high-performance pathway for tier two nations and the Pacific Challenge is key to that objective.
“Not only does it deliver exposure to international rugby for emerging test players, but it plays an important role in enabling unions to keep promising talent within their own structures, and in Fiji’s case, combines with the Fijian Drua’s participation in the Australian National Rugby Championship to achieve that objective.”
Fiji Warriors are the reigning champions and have won the competition on seven occasions, Samoan teams have won twice and Tongan teams once.
Junior Japan, who joined after a revamp of the Challenge in 2011, have never won the title, but had their best-ever campaign in 2017, finishing second to signal the emergence of promising talent ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019.