Fiji, Georgia to fight out Pacific Nations Cup

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Fiji and Georgia will fight out the 2018 Pacific Nations Cup rugby title when they meet in the second round of the tournament at Suva on Saturday.

Both teams were narrow first-round winners last weekend and the outcome of Saturday’s match at the National Stadium will determine whether Fiji claims the Pacific crown for the fourth consecutive year.

Fiji beat Samoa 24-22 in round one and Georgia beat Tonga 16-15. Both teams had to hold out strong finishes from their opponents after establishing comfortable first-half leads.

Fiji has strengthened its lineup by naming former rugby league and now Toulon rugby union star Semi Radradra to make his debut at center. Radradra, who played for Parramatta in Australia’s National Rugby League before switching to union and joining the star-studded Toulon side in France’s Top 14 club competition, joins a classy backline.

His midfield partner Jale Vatubua, flyhalf Ben Volavola, winger Nemani Nadolo and fullback Keni Murimurivalu are all France-based while scrumhalf Henry Seniloli plays in Italy and giant winger Vereniki Goneva plays for Newcastle in England.

”I’ve always wanted to play for Fiji,” Radradra said. ”It’s an honor to be selected and play in my test debut. Our backline, Ben and Jale and I have been working hard this week, changing a few tactics in our attack and we haved talked a lot about defense. It will be a tough against Georgia. They played well last week against Tonga but if we stick to our plan and instructions, it should be all good.”

Coach John McKee said Fiji would have to avoid the disciplinary lapses, and the three yellow cards, that cost them heavily in the second half of last weekend’s clash with Samoa.

”Discipline will be crucial for this game,” he said. ”Conceding unnecessary penalties against Georgia will allow them to put us under pressure. One yellow card will be one yellow card too many in my view.”

Fiji and Georgia have met twice before, in 2012 when Fiji won 24-19 and in 2016 when Georgia won 14-3 in Suva. The teams will next meet at next year’s Rugby World Cup, at Osaka, Japan on Oct. 3, 2019.

Samoa coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua has made nine changes to his starting lineup as his team prepares for World Cup qualifying matches later this month.

Tonga has made four personnel and one positional change, naming Australia-based winger Cooper Vuna for the first time this season.