Moana Pasifika name four debutants for Highlanders match

Moana Pasifika has named a strong team to face the Highlanders in their first match of 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific. 

The new look side travel to Dunedin with four players set to make their Super Rugby Pacific debut and 10 players to make their debut for Moana Pasifika. 

Viliami Fine is one of four Super Rugby Pacific debutants and will start on the left-wing. Joining him and bringing flair off the bench is Aisea Halo, exciting prospect Allan Craig and Māori All Black Jacob Norris.

The Southland connection runs deep for Fine who began his NPC career in Otago, playing his first game for the team at Forsyth Barr Stadium in 2021.  

The 26-year-old Wellington native says it’s been a goal of his to play for Moana Pasifika since they were established in late 2021. And returning to a place where his journey began makes it extra special. 

“It’s pretty exciting. I look back at what it took to get here. If you asked me three years ago where I’d be, I wouldn’t have said I’d be playing Super Rugby. I took the long route but I made it a goal when I left home in 2021, and it’s a good feeling knowing that it paid off,” Fine said.

“I know a few boys in the Highlanders so it’s special playing against a few of my teammates, and doing it at the same stadium.” 

“It will be good to go up against Timoci Tavatavanawai. He’s probably one of the best attacking wingers in the comp so it will be a good test for myself.” 

Joining Moana Pasifika has been a learning experience for Fine who has looked to veterans on the team for guidance.

“Someone that I’ve learned off was Pepesana Patafilo. When I first came in, the first few weeks they told me that I needed to fix my defence. And he’s someone that’s helped me a lot. Julian Savea and Nigel Ah Wong, they help me a lot too. Just watching what they do on the field and picking up habits has helped me grow my game as well.”

“I’m grateful that they gave me a chance to show what I can do and what I’ve worked for. Now they’ve given me an opportunity, I’m just going to make the most of it.”

Known for his domination on the wing, Julian Savea moves into second five-eighth, forming the midfield pairing with Pepesana Patafilo who starts at centre and provides an electrifying presence in his own right. 

Savea is one try away from becoming Super Rugby’s most prolific try-scorer, and has recorded a total of 60 tries. 

The experienced Ereatara Enari and William Havili get the nod at halfback and first five-eighth respectively. 

Nigel Ah Wong brings athleticism on the right wing and the dynamic Danny Toala rounds out the backline at number 15.

Super Rugby stalwart Sione Mafileo joins Captain and Manu Samoa internationals James Lay and Sama Malolo in the front row, all for the first time in Moana Pasifika colours. 

Loose forward Miracle Faiilagi who had a breakthrough season in 2023 connects with Alamanda Motuga to steady the scrum with Lotu Inisi anchoring at number 8. 

Thirteen-year rugby journeyman Tom Savage makes his first start for Moana and partners up with the towering Samuel Slade, filling the lock positions. 

Leading the impact players are inaugural Moana Pasifika players Samiuela Moli, Abraham Pole and Anzelo Tuitavuki all bringing energy and expertise off the bench. As well as versatile back D’angelo Leuila and Suetena Asouma who has earned his first playing opportunity on a full-time contract.

Unavailable due to injury/illness: 

Sekope Kepu, Ofa Tauatevalu, Sione Havili-Talitui, Solomone Funaki, Iakopo Mapu, Semisi Paea, Jonathan Taumateine, Lalomilo Lalomilo, Henry Taefu.


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