The annual Pacific Nations Cup is about to kickoff and this year it is forming part of the buildup to the Rugby World cup for the 6 sides. Here is my preview/prediction to for the final standings.
The Pacific Nations Cup has had various structures and competitors such as Australia A, Junior All Blacks and New Zealand Māori have all taken part in the past. Since 2013 it has settled to being the 6 tier two nations in the pacific rim, even if Samoa missed that year due to prior commitments. So here are the nations taking part along with their World Rugby rankings and points:
Ranking Country Points 9 Samoa 75.39 11 Fiji 74.57 12 Tonga 74.12 13 Japan 73.70 16 USA 67.61 17 Canada 66.83
As previously mentioned this tournament has taken various formats as well. Last year the 6 teams were split into 2 conferences of 3 and there were no cross conference games. This means that we have two reigning Champions and below are the final tables from 2014.
Asia/Pacific conference 1 Japan 9 2 United States 6 3 Canada 2
Pacific Islands conference 1 Samoa 6 2 Fiji 6 3 Tonga 2
In 2015 the games will be hosted mainly in Canada and the USA with just one first round game in Fiji. So that’s the background, let’s move onto the tournament structure. Again the 6 teams have been split into 2 pools of three teams. This time instead of playing the teams in their own pool they will play the 3 teams from the other pool. After the 3 rounds of pool games the teams will be ranked 1st to 6th and the top two will playoff to be champions. The next two to decide 3rd and 4th and the bottom two to decide 5th and 6th. The two pools are:
Pool 1 Samoa Japan Tonga
Pool 2 Fiji United States Canada
Looking at the world rankings it seems like a strange split to put seeds 1, 3 and 4 in one group then 2, 5 and 6 in the other. Especially when 1.7 points cover the top 4 sides then there is a 6 point gap between 4th and 5th seeds.
So getting into the prediction side of things and counterintuitively I’ll look at pool 2 first. Fiji might have a home game but they clearly have the hardest schedule. This means that whilst they might top their pool they could struggle in the overall table. The other two sides in pool 2 are the other two hosts which should be to their advantage. However being the two lowest ranked sides by quite a gap I can see them struggling and ending up the bottom two sides overall.
Looking at pool 1, Samoa are clearly going to be the team to beat. Not only are they the top ranked team but they have had a warmup game against the All Blacks. One concern will be about any hangover from that All Black game as it was such an occasion. What form Tonga is in is anybodies guess as they haven’t had a game since November. Compare that to Japan who played the Asian 5 Nations in April and May and you can see a clear contrast in preparation time. The quality of opposition in the Asian 5 Nations is lower it does mean that they have had time together.
Taking all of that into account this is how I see the sides finishing the combined table before the playoffs:
1 Samoa 2 Japan 3 Fiji 4 Tonga 5 United States 6 Canada