With their grip on the Pacific Nations Cup 2019 loosening following last week's defeat to Japan, Fiji head coach John McKee has reacted by making several changes to his starting line-up and appointed a new captain in dynamic second-rower Leone Nakarawa.
The five-time champions need to beat Canada to stand any chance of adding another title to their honours board in the second match at the ANZ Stadium in Suva on Saturday. USA and Samoa, two of the winning teams from round one, kick off the doubleheader. Should Samoa follow up their victory over Tonga with another win, they will move ahead of the Eagles in the World Rugby Rankings.
Over in the Osaka Prefecture, Japan will be looking to build on their winning start against defending champions Fiji when they take on Tonga at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium, one of the 12 Rugby World Cup 2019 venues.
TONGA (14) v JAPAN (11)
Siale Piutau captains Tonga on his return to the international arena. Piutau, 33, has not played for the 'Ikale Tahi since November 2018 and is named at outside centre in a starting line-up showing 10 changes to the one beaten by Samoa last weekend. Piutau is partnered in midfield by Cooper Vuna, who scored a try in the Apia mud, while David Halafonua keeps his place in the backline albeit at full-back instead of on the wing.
In the pack, Paea Faanunu takes on the loose-head responsibilities once again and Leva Fifita and Maama Vaipulu get another run out in the second row and back row but with Vaipulu named at number eight instead of seven.
The Brave Blossoms' starting line-up shows just five changes to the one that defeated Fiji 34-21 in the opening round last Saturday. Michael Leitch is restored to the captaincy in place of Pieter 'Lappies' Labuschagne and takes his place on the blindside with Yoshitaka Tokunaga named on the other side of the back row in Labuschagne's absence. The only other alteration to the pack comes in the second row, where Wimpie van der Walt comes in for James Moore.
In the backs, scrum-half Yutaka Nagare is Yu Tamara's new partner at half-back and Lomano Lemeki gets a chance to shine on the left wing having only played the final quarter of last week's win in Kamaishi.
- Tonga have won on their last two visits to Japan (27-17 in May 2013 and 24-20 in June 2012)
- Tonga leads 9-8 in the head-to-head
- Japan beat Tonga 39-6 – a record winning margin for the Brave Blossoms in tests between the two sides
- At 38 years and 102 days old, Luke Thompson became the oldest player ever to represent Japan in a test match when he took to the field in last week's win over Fiji
- Tonga will move up to 11th – their highest position since September 2015 – if they win by more than 15 points. Tenth place is possible if Fiji lose by an identical margin, a position the ‘Ikale Tahi haven’t held since June 2013
- Japan would drop two to 13th if beaten by more than 15 points
- A Japan win by a similarly big margin would see them move into the Top 10 – but only if Fiji fail to beat Canada
USA (15) v SAMOA (16)
USA head coach Gary Gold has kept changes to a minimum as his side look to make it two wins from two in the PNC following last week's win over Canada.
In the forwards, James Hilterbrand is preferred to Dylan Fawsitt who has to settle for a place on the bench, Greg Peterson replaces the injured Nick Civetta in the second row and Tony Lamborn is a new addition to the back row. Ruben de Haas makes his fourth start at scrum-half alongside AJ MacGinty with the only other change coming in the midfield where Paul Lasike inclusion at inside centre has resulted in Bryce Campbell shifting out one position.
Two forwards and three backs retain their starting spots for Samoa as coach Steve Jackson tries out new combinations following last week's 25-17 win against Tonga.
Alapati Leiua shifts from outside centre to the left wing, while Johnny Vaili retains his place on the opposite flank and Ahsee Tuala gets another run out at 15. Only Filo Paulo and TJ Ioane go again in the pack with the captain's armband handed to number eight Piula Faaselele as a result of Motu Matu'u's omission from the matchday 23. His place at hooker is taken by Seilala Lam with the Lay brothers, Jordan and James, lining up either side of him. Vaito'asa Senio Toleafoa accompanies Paulo in the second row and Henry Stowers makes his debut on the blindside.
- Samoa leads the head-to-head 5-1
- The USA achieved their first win over Samoa in six attempts the last time the sides met in 2018
- In five of the six previous meetings, the sides have been separated by one score
- Fiji is the fifth country to have hosted this fixture
- The USA will leapfrog Italy, the side immediately above them in the rankings, if they win
- The USA can climb two places in victory to 13th – one place off their record high – if the margin is more than 15 points and Tonga lose against Japan
- If Samoa win, they will replace the USA in 15th
FIJI (9) v CANADA (21)
Fiji head coach John McKee has made wholesale changes to the side that lost 34-21 to Japan in Kamaishi last Saturday with only three players – all forwards – keeping their places.
Leone Nakarawa, who captain's the side for the first time, is named in the second row with Semi Kunatani and Viliame Mata packing down behind him once again, at number seven and eight.
Campese Ma'afu, Veremalua Vugakoto and Pani Ravai form a new-look front row while Tevita Ratuva comes into the engine room to partner Nakarawa and Peceli Yato completes the pack at blindside.
In the backs, Henry Seniloli and Josh Matavesi are both promoted from the bench at half-back, Semi Radradra is fit to take his place in midfield, where he will be looking to extend his record of scoring in every test in his fourth senior appearance alongside Jale Vatubua. The back-three is made up of wings Eroni Sau and Josua Tuisova and full-back Kini Murimurivalu.
Reacting to last week's 47-19 defeat to the USA, Canada head coach Kingsley Jones has rung the changes with only veteran centre Ciaran Hearn wearing the same jersey. While Hearn goes again at inside centre, the other returnees – Conor Keys, captain Kyle Baillie and Peter Nelson – have different numbers on their backs. Conor Keys is named at four instead of five, Baillie joins him in the second row after playing at six last weekend and Peter Nelson is tried at full-back having made his debut at fly-half in Colorado.
It's all-change elsewhere with a front row of Rob Brouwerm Eric Howard and Jake Ilnicki, while Justin Blanchet, Lucas Rumball and Luke Campbell form the new-look back row. Experienced scrum-half Gordon McRorie has Shane O'Leary outside of him in the half-backs and Nick Blevins partners Hearn in a midfield combination totalling 126 caps between them. Kainoa Lloyd and Jeff Hessler fill the wing slots.
- Fiji leads the head-to-head 9-3
- Fiji enjoyed their biggest win over Canada (57-17) the last time the sides met in Narbonne in November 2017
- Canada’s last win in the fixture came in 2013
- Fiji cannot improve their position in the rankings but defeat could cost them their place in the world's top 10
- Canada cannot catch Russia above them no matter what the margin of victory is, although the gap will be down to 0.45 of a point if they win by over 15 points