Former All Blacks and Christchurch-based Crusaders player Setareki Tamanivalu headlines a powerful 34-member Flying Fijians squad for the World Rugby 2022 Pacific Nations Cup to be hosted by Fiji next month.
Tamanivalu has been included as one of ten debutants by the Fijians head coach Vern Cotter.
Born-and-raised in Fiji, Tamanivalu played three test matches for the All Blacks in 2016 before featuring in two non-tests in 2017, but has not played any international rugby since then.
He qualifies to represent Fiji under World Rugby’s relaxed eligibility laws, which came into force in November last year, allowing test-capped players to represent a second nation that they are eligible for via birthright or heritage, following a three-year stand down period.
The 30-year-old Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo player in Japan is joined by nine other players in line to make their test debuts for Fiji; all of whom starred for the Fijian Drua outfit in their maiden Super Rugby Pacific voyage.
Locks Isoa Nasilasila and Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, loose forwards Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, who represented New Zealand provincial side Tasman before joining the Drua and Rusiate Nasove, halfback Peni Matawalu, midfielders Kalaveti Ravouvou and Apisalome Vota including outside backs Vinaya Habosi and Ilaisa Droasese are the other newbies.
A further seven players from Mick Byrne’s Drua squad are additions to the national side, making up nearly half of the Drua contingent in the Fiji squad being props Haereiti Hetet and veteran Manasa Saulo, hookers Tevita Ikanivere and Mesulame Dolokoto, halfback Frank Lomani and Simione Kuruvoli including first-five Teti Tela.
The side will be captained by La Rochelle player Levani Botia, who is joined by Lyon wing Josua Tuisova, Stade Francais midfielder Waisea Nayacalevu, Racing 92 first-five Ben Volavola, Castres midfielder Vilimoni Botitu and Western Force wing Manasa Mataele.
Among the notable absentees are Leicester Tigers giant wing Nemani Nadolo and Glasgow Warriors lock Leone Nakarawa, while star utility back Semi Radradra, Peceli Yato, Viliame Mata, Meli Derenalagi, Kitione Salawa, Vilive Miramira, Samu Tawake and Peni Ravai are the eight frontline players unavailable due to injury and rehabilitation.
The team will go into camp in Nadi on June 20 before their first match against the Toutai Kefu-coached Ikale Tahi Tonga on July 2 at the ANZ Stadium in Laucala Bay, Suva before hosting a revived Australia A and the Seilala Mapusua-coached Samoa on July 9 and 16 respectively at Lautoka’s Churchill Park.
Cotter said he was excited with the return of the PNC after a two-year hiatus because of a killer virus and the opportunities for best players donning the white jersey with a coconut tree emblem at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“The PNC series is extremely important for us,” he said.
“We’re playing at home for the first time in a long time and we want to do well. The players are really putting pressure on team selections.
“We want people to prove themselves and if they’re disappointed of not being selected, they will work harder to get into the team.
Flying Fijians squad for 2022 Pacific Nations Cup
Haereiti Hetet, Eroni Mawi, Sam Matavesi, Tevita Ikanivere, Mesulame Dolokoto, Luke Tagi, Mesage Doge, Manasa Saulo, Tevita Ratuva, Temo Mayanavanua, Isoa Nasilasila, Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, Albert Tuisue, Mesulame Kunavula, Levani Botia, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta and Rusiate Nasove.
Frank Lomani, Simione Kuruvoli, Peni Matawalu, Ben Volavola, Teti Tela, Setareki Tamanivalu, Vilimoni Botitu, Apisalome Vota, Waisea Nayacalevu, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Jiuta Wainiqolo, Josua Tuisova, Vinaya Habosi, Manasa Mataele, Setareki Tuicuvu and Ilaisa Droasese.