"Swapped Nations" - Former All Blacks and Wallabies Set for Pacific Nations Action Tomorrow - Ruck

“Swapped Nations” – Former All Blacks and Wallabies Set for Pacific Nations Action Tomorrow

Despite the 2023 Rugby Championship taking a weekend off, there will be some former All Blacks and Wallabies players taking to the pitch for international duties tomorrow.

The Pacific Island nations of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are all in action, as the 2023 Pacific Nations Cup Series is set to get underway. These sides have capitalised upon World Rugby’s laws regarding eligibility, which has made several former New Zealand and Australian internationals free for selection following a 36-month stand down period.

Fiji take on Tonga in a hotly anticipated Pacific Island clash tomorrow in Lautoka, with 15,000 fans expected to descend upon Fiji’s Churchill Park for the derby. The additional match in the competition sees Japan host Samoa in the Sapporo Dome, with a former Wallaby and All Black named in the Manu Samoa squad for the first time.


Samoa Head Coach Voavasamanaia Seilala Mapusua has confirmed the debut of former Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali’ifano, for tomorrow’s clash against the Brave Blossoms. The Moana Pasifika fly half has hit top gear this season, becoming just the seventh Super Rugby player to surpass the 1,000 points mark.

Leali’ifano made 26 appearances for the Wallabies between 2013 and 2019, and is now ready to run out for his heritage, by donning the Pacific blue of Samoa for the first time. He is joined by another notable debutant, as 50-capped All Black hooker Charlie Faumuina takes a seat on the Samoa bench. The 2015 Rugby World Cup winner is eyeing up a return to the competition in France, yet this time he won’t wearing the famous black jersey.

Faumuina and Leali’ifano first met as international opponents during the 2013 Rugby Championship, as the All Blacks recorded a 47-29 win over the Wallabies to retain the Bledisloe Cup. Mapusua has also named three additional debutants in the Samoan squad, who are hopeful of breaking onto the international stage ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Powerhouse number eight So’otala Fa’aso’o starts in the back row for his Samoa debut, with the former London Irish man feared by the stars of the Premiership. In addition to Faumuina, the duo of loose forward Miracle Fai’ilagi and fullback Martini Talapusi are also hoping to make their debuts for Manu Samoa this weekend.

Japan are ready for their first test match for over a year, with Head Coach Jamie Joseph naming his Brave Blossoms side after a 47-21 exhibition defeat to the All Blacks XV. Joseph has listed four uncapped players in the Japan squad, with lock Amato Fakatava and left wing Jone Naikabula starting from the off. Shota Fukui and Tomoki Osada are hoping for their full test match debut’s off the bench.

Aside from establishing a strong start in the Pacific Nations Cup, a great deal of momentum and pride is on the line. Samoa and Japan will meet again in Pool D of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, as they are joined by Argentina, Chile and Steve Borthwick’s England side.


There are more debuts set to come in this clash of the islands, with Fiji Head Coach Simon Raiwalui naming four first-time names on this weekend’s teamsheet. The Flying Fijians have called upon Pau back-rower Lekima Tagitagivalu, and the Drua duo of halfback Caleb Muntz and winger Selestino Ravutaumada to start their debuts from the off.

On the bench, Tasman Mako and Fijian Drua lock Te Ahirawu Cirikidaveta is hoping to mark this Tongan test with a debut. Raiwalu’s most polarizing selection is that of fly half Muntz, who is given the nod ahead of regular number 10 Ben Volavola, and also veteran Fijian fly half Teti Tela. Raiwalui is certainly intrusting his faith in the new talent, in what will be a testing debut for the 23-year-old.

“I think Caleb earns that spot. He is a very creative fly-half and has played well in the Super Rugby Pacific so it’s going to be a big day for him and others” said Raiwalui to the Official Fiji Rugby Website. There are some recogniseable names for fans of the Premiership in the Fijian side, as the likes of Northampton Saints (and Royal Navy) hooker Sam Matavesi, and Gloucester versatile poerhouse Albert Tuisue bolster the pack. Ex-Bristol centre Semi Radradra eagerly awaits his international return from the bench.

Tonga come into this match with a notable absentee, as controversial former Wallabies fullback Israel Folau finds no place in the squad to take on Fiji. Former All Black Charles Piutau is set to start in the number 15 jersey, with his former New Zealand teammate Malakai Fekitoa running out for Tonga at inside centre.

Charles Piutau of Bristol Bears on the break during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Gloucester Rugby and Bristol Bears at Kingsholm Stadium on December 3 2021 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Leicester Tigers’ bulldozing winger Solomon Kata starts on the left side of the park, with Tonga Head Coach Toutai Kefu also naming one debutant on the bench.

Coventry fly half Patrick Pellegrini has been called up, after his impressive performances took his side to a third place finish in the 2022/23 RFU Championship. He is the only fresh face in this Tonga side, who are out to prove a point, after being drawn into the ‘Pool of Death’ for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Tonga have been seeded into Pool B, alongside South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania.