Avele Club will compete to “The Best of Our Ability”
Samoa News Sports is pleased to feature local teams that have been invited to play in the TMO Marist Pago International Seven A Side tournament scheduled for April 13-14. This coverage is made possible through the sponsorship of TMO and host club, Marist Pago.
“We accept the challenge of playing against top teams from overseas as far as our strength and ability will take us, but it will be an uphill battle not only for Avele but other local clubs as well,” Avele coach, Tommy Elisara says.
Elisara is American Samoa’s national coach in the sevens code. He led American Samoa’s sevens team to the Pacific Games rugby tournament held in Noumea late last year.
Elisara is perhaps the most vocal opponent in his fight against the American Samoa Rugby Union to allow guest players to play for local clubs in the upcoming Flag Day TMO Marist Pago International Sevens tournament scheduled for the second weekend of April.
“I had intended to bring Fijian William Ryder— a sevens specialist— and my relative, Allan Fa’alava’au who plays for Australia’s sevens national team to play for the Avele club. But because of the restrictions imposed by the union against such a move, we have to cancel these plans. But it would have been a big attraction to the tournament and an inspiration to our players as well as others,” Elisara explains.
Elisara has been pushing chairman Togiola Tulafono and the ASRU to change their minds but they stood firm on their ban of imported players.
He called the union ban on guest players as “stupid rules” during one union meeting and was strongly admonished for his comment by an ASRU board member, Mafui’e Macalister Fa’agata, who was present.
“I speak from experience and what I’ve witnessed. The benefits American Samoa will gain if they let local clubs bring top players from outside to play in their teams will be overwhelming. We profit from their understanding of the game.
“Look at the progress Samoa has made because there are no restrictions against imported players to play in international tournaments like the Marist St. Joseph’s International Sevens (now in its 21st year).
“The development of rugby skyrocketed in such a short time as Apia players learned quickly from top players that played along side them. They shared with them their knowledge,” Elisara added. “There’s no reason why we can’t do the same thing here.”
To prove his point, the Avele head coach points to the 2005 American Samoa International sevens tournament that his team won here had three top players from Apia. “We beat the strong Tepatasi team from Samoa in the final and I attributed our success in that competition through our use of three international players from Samoa. At that time there was no ban on guest players to mix with our local ones.”
The Avele coach says that inviting guest players to play for local clubs will accelerate the development of rugby in American Samoa. “The rugby knowledge they leave behind as they depart for their respective countries will enrich our local players and coaches. I only hope and pray that the union will reconsider our appeal and change its rules next year,” Elisara added.
The Avele team is using the Kanana Fou college field to train. It is one of the longest serving teams in the union. Avele is one of the most successful territorial rugby clubs. It is made up of former players who went to school at Avele College situated in Vailima, Samoa. But non-Avele players can also join, according to Elisara.
Avele is the American Samoa Rugby Union’s current 15-man a side champion and shield holder. It won the two championships in the 2011 ASRU season. Avele defeated Nu’uuli A which had not lost a match since the start of the competition for the shield and the overall championship in the last match of last year’s season, snapping Nu’uuli’s 11-victory streak.
A big melee erupted just minutes before the end of the shield match and as a result, five Nu’uuli players were charged and all were convicted in the assault of the referee from Samoa who conducted the match.
The ASRU then moved to ban Nu’uuli and its players from taking part in any rugby activity for five years and fined the club $5,000.
The Avele coach has named his 15-man squad. He has not selected a captain as two members are running for the job. Fetu Sasalu and Niki Taka are competing for the leadership role.
Sasalu is a former Manu Samoa player having been selected in the 2008 Manu Samoa international sevens team. He is Avele’s key man and playmaker. Formerly of the SCOPA club in Samoa, Sasalu brings a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Taka played for Pago Marist in last year’s season but won a transfer to the Avele club where he played before. He represented the territory in the sevens competition in the Noumea Pacific Games in New Caledonia last year.
Other key players in the Avele team are: Falelua Hall from Nu’uuli who was picked in the American Samoa under 19 years of age team that played in the Oceania tournament held in Samoa last year. Sio Sio, is a former Samoa A player who was involved in Pacific Cup tournaments between Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, and Australia several years ago. Mathew Mariota is a former FIFA representative player and referee.
Others are: Pepe Mate, who rows for the Matasaua fautasi from the Manu’a District, Failautusi Sefo, Tali Te’i, Alatina Seulata, Otara Satu’u’u, and Tanielu Fa’aolo’olo, who is a former under 19 player.
“I’m concerned about our fitness as we’ve only picked up our training three weeks ago. We’re planning on running up hill at Aoloau a couple of times to strengthen the legs and build stamina,” added Elisara.