The Oceania Championship and World Cup qualifier began today in Lautoka, Fiji. Six teams are taking part – Australia “A” and New Zealand Development, plus Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea who are competing for the region’s World Cup spot.
The tournament will be played over four rounds, with the finals on 30th November. The six teams have been divided into two pools of three for the first three rounds and will play the three teams in the other pool.
The competition itself began with an off-field crisis. Concerns following an outbreak of measles in the region meant that when a suspected case was reported in the Tongan team the organisers decided to cancel their game against Australia A, awarding both teams two points.
As a result, Samoa’s game against Papua New Guinea kicked off the event, with Samoa recording an emphatic 65-12 win over Papua New Guinea.
Winger Apaau Mailau and debutant Apaau Mailau both grabbed hat-tricks for the “Manusina” in a solid display that will have pleased head coach Ramsey Tomokino, especially with a crunch match against Fijiana coming up on Friday.
Full-back Saelua Seleti, impressive second-rower Maria Jacinta Ausai and Billy-Jean Ale added their names to the scoresheet and the new-look Manusina were also awarded a penalty try.
PNG's Palais, who were 44-0 down at half-time, never gave up and scored two tries of their own. Fullback Fatima Rama showed every bit of her blistering pace to get the Palais on the board with an 80-metre try on the hour mark, before adding another with five minutes to go.
Samoa: 1 Marilyn Live 2 Margaret Vaiouga 3 Elieta Taito 4 Jacinta Ausai 5 Mary-Lee Sa'u 6 Easter Savelio 7 Alyce Solaese 8 [C] Nina Foaese 9 Jhana Magele 10 Bella Milo 11 Sieni Mose 12 Billy-Jean Ale 13 Luisa Gago 14 Apaau Mailau 15 Saelua Leaula
Papua New Guinea: 1 Lydia Korikai 2 Jane Buku 3 Lorraine Pomat 4 Shelanne Kopi 5 Isi Govea 6 Patricia Korpok 7 Rusila Oki 8 Zafira Pangkathana 9 Margaret Naua 10 Mala Mark 11 Joanne Butler 12 Vanessa Butler 13 Vanessa Semoso 14 Joan Dankin 15 Fatima Rama
The opening match was followed by a second game every bit as one-sided as the first, with the Black Ferns Development XV despatching the Fijiana 53-0.
Canterbury centre Grace Brooker cemented her reputation as one of New Zealand women rugby's hottest prospects with an influential try-scoring display and several other players put their hands up for senior selection in the emphatic win.
A brace of tries were scored by Natahlia Moors and Leilani Perese, with Joanah Ngan-Woo, Lauren Balsillie and Hazel Tubic also adding their names to the list.
Fijiana Captain Sereima Leweniqila said that the team expected it to be tough with so many new players coming up against class opposition.
“We were trying to work on our set pieces and our defensive line. All of this is really a psyching up to the game on Friday, which is the Rugby World Cup qualifying one,” Leweniqila said.
“The main focus on Friday is to come away with a win and hopefully we can do that,” she added.
A top-seven finish at the last Rugby World Cup in Ireland two years ago guaranteed New Zealand, England, USA, France, Canada, Australia and Wales their place, while South Africa became the first regional qualifier back in August.
New Zealand: Leilani Perese Luka Connor Amy Rule Kelsie Wills Joanah Nganwoo Alana Bremner Kendra Reynolds Joanna Fanene Arihana Marino-Tauhni Hazel Tubic Martha Lolohea Lauren Balsillie Grace Brooker Natahlia Moors Olivia Mcgoverne
Reserves: Saphire Abraham, Angel Mulu, Eilis Doyle, Chelsea Bremner, Pia Tapsell, Melanie Puckett, Rosie Kelly, Amanda Rasch.
Fiji: Leilanie Burness Vika Matarugu Aseri Galo Laisa Taga Torika Semo Bulou Joma Rubuti Mere Moto Sereima Leweniqualc.1 Rusila Tamoi Ivamere Rokowati Elenoa Adinaimata Mela Matanatabu Pricilla Siata Seini Raoma Salote Vakaturi
Reserves: Ada Dansey, Ruci Vueti, Adi Sainimere Nalewenikataga, Vasiti Rakaivu, Laveniatinai„ Makereta Tunidau, Raijeli Uluinayau, Mereani Mocei-
New Zealand Development 5pts
Papua New Guinea 0pts
Australia A v New Zealand Development
Tonga v Papua New Guinea
Samoa v Fiji