In rugby we’re fortunate enough to have three great sporting nations in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, but what would a team made up of their most successful players look like?
What the Pacific Islanders may sometimes lack in structure, they more than make up for in flair and physicality, and some of the most enthralling games in the sport have involved this trio of nations.
For the purposes of this exercise, we looked at the players who have won the most games for their country and the combined Pacific Islanders invitational team, for which individuals received caps. We have ignored players like Rupeni Caucaunibuca because rather than being a subjective list, it is built on statistics and highlights the nations’ most consistent performers at international level.
What we discovered is that there are only a handful of players from Tonga that have won 15 or more games for their country. They are: back rower Nili Latu Langilangi, winger Vunga Lilo, fly-half Elisi Vunipola, flanker Hale T-Pole and fly-half Kurt Morath.
This is part and parcel of the high turnover of players found within the Pacific Island nations generally, due to the demands of domestic tournaments which usually take priority. The lack of success of the Tonga national side in recent decades is another factor.
In comparison, the likes of Fiji and Samoa have been able to build up some consistency, particularly against other tier 2 nations, and our selection is made up entirely of Fijians and Samoans as a result.
The Pacific Islands’ Winners XV
1) Joeli Veitayaki (26 wins)
Joeli’s notable victories include those over Scotland in Suva in 1998, against Italy in L’Aquila in 1999 and over the Italians again in Lautoka in 2000. His career spanned 49 caps and he also played for the Chiefs and Blues, as well as Northland and Ulster.
2) Sunia Koto Vuli (26 wins, 1 draw)
Fijian hooker Koto is one player Wales fans would probably like to forget about. He was in the team that beat Gareth Jenkins’ team 34-38 and ultimately cost the Welsh coach his job in 2007, as well as Wales’ place in the tournament. He has also beaten Italy twice in his career.
3) Census Johnston (24 wins, 1 draw)
Johnston will be a familiar name to many European rugby fans as he has played for both Saracens and Biarritz and is currently on the books at Toulouse, for whom he has made over 150 appearances. As well as winning domestic titles at both Biarritz and Toulouse, including the Heineken Cup with the latter in 2010, he has made 57 appearances for both Samoa and the Pacific Islanders side. He was part of the Samoan side that shocked Australia 23-32 in Sydney in 2011, as well as beating Scotland in Durban in 2013.
4) Simon Raiwalui (26 wins)
Raiwalui’s career has taken in victories over Italy and Scotland, as well as stints in Europe with Sale Sharks, Newport, Saracens and Racing Metro 92. He also made three appearances for the Pacific Islanders team.
5) Emori Katalau (25 wins)
Katalau was part of the Fijian team that beat Scotland in 1998, but also defeated Italy twice over the course of his career. The lock’s career took in 48 matches in total.
6) Semo Sititi (33 wins)
Sititi is one of Samoa’s most well-known players, and rightly so. In his 63 caps he beat Wales in the 1999 Rugby World Cup pool game, and defeated Argentina in Buenos Aires in 2005. Throughout his long career Sititi spent time at clubs in New Zealand, Scotland, England and Japan and also played for the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby competition.
7) Akapusi Qera (24 wins, 2 draws)
As well as being an integral part of the side that downed Wales in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Qera has enjoyed a long and successful career in European rugby, most notably at Gloucester where he made 142 appearances and was named their Player of the Year in 2010. He currently plays for Montpellier in the Top 14.
8) Alifereti Doviverata (22 wins)
Doviverata captained Fiji at the 2003 Rugby World Cup and at the 2007 Pacific Nations Cup. He has the title of ‘Ro’ as he comes from a long line of Fijian chiefs, with his father being one of the chiefs of Rewa. As well as an impressive 15s background, Doviverata has also made a name for himself in sevens rugby.
9) Jacob Rauluni (26 wins)
Rauluni comes from a pretty notable family, with both his father Taito and his brother Mosese having played for Fiji. Additionally, his uncle is none other than Fijian legend Waisale Serevi. He played 42 times for Queensland Reds, but also helped Rotherham Titans gain promotion to the Premiership in 2003.
10) Nicky Little (37 wins)
When you think of Fijian fly-halves, one of the first names that comes into your head is Nicky Little. He has won more games for a Pacific Island team than any other player and his victories include wins over Italy, Scotland and Wales. He had an illustrious career across New Zealand and Europe, playing at several different English and French clubs.
11) Brian Lima (31 wins, 2 draws)
Known as ‘The Chiropractor’ for his powerful tackling, Lima is an iconic Samoan player and he was deservedly inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2011. His international career included three wins over Wales, one at the 1991 Rugby World Cup and another in the 1999 edition of the tournament, as well as two victories over Argentina and three against Italy.
12) Seremaia Baïkeinuku (28 wins, 1 draw)
Seremaia Bai was part of the Fiji team that brought down Wales in 2007, but has also enjoyed a prolific career in domestic rugby as well. He won the Top 14 title with Castres Olympique in 2013 and also played for Clermont Auvergne and Leicester Tigers.
13) To’o Vaega (35 wins, 1 draw)
You know how important a win against Wales is to you when you name your son ‘Cardiff Vaega’ after the city you won the game in. Vaega played in three World Cup campaigns, but his most famous victory will always be the defeat of Wales in the 1991 Rugby World Cup, where he scored a try in the 16-13 win.
14) David Lemi (20 wins, 2 draws)
The diminutive Lemi has made Bristol his second home after spending four years at the club previously, before joining them once again in 2014. However, Lemi was also part of the Samoa team that shocked Wales (yep, them again) 19-26 at the Millennium Stadium back in 2012.
15) Norman Ligairi (25 wins)
Ligairi has the honour of being the only Fijian to have scored two tries against the All Blacks in the same game, as well as helping Fiji to the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena