Lalomalava and Leone Whites train hard for Sevens Tourney
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 and 14. This coverage is made possible through the sponsorship of TMO and host club Marist Pago.
THE LEONE WHITES CLUB
“This is a big opportunity for the territory as the tournament opens doors for American Samoa to welcome the many international players and tourists that will visit the territory during a very important time of our history, the Flag Day,” comments one of the Leone Whites coach, Mafutaga So’onafai.
Leone has two coaches. One of them is Paki Maiava. He tells Samoa News Sports they have not decided on who will be the head coach. “Mafu and I have been given the responsibility by the heads of the Leone aumaga (league of untitled young village men) Ilao ma Ko’omakato to organize, train and prepare the Leone Whites for the Marist International sevens competition. We exist as co-coaches and that’s the way we will operate.”
The two coaches have been with the team for five weeks, leading the squad of over 15 players in drills, clinics, and ball handling. “We’ve been running and perfecting our combinations. Most of our members are young men from our village but the experienced vets are helping them sharpening their rugby skills,” adds Maiava.
So’onafai says they have been concentrating on building their stamina for the past four weeks. “Fitness is a primary concern for us as coaches. No matter how good you are as a rugby player, but experience doesn’t take you anywhere if you are not fit. We think our team has the endurance to play against top teams from off-island.”
Co-coach Maiava does not believe in importing experienced international players to beef up their Leone Whites. “We are developing our young athletes that will one day carry the flag of American Samoa in international competition. What’s the purpose of bringing invited players from overseas to play for our team. They will just take up slots intended for another up and coming player.
“The American Samoa Rugby Union is now a member of the IRB (the International Rugby Board is world rugby’s governing body) and we have to abide by their rules and regulations.
“Our team is made up mainly of the young men from Leone because when the union picks a team to represent American Samoa to international tournaments, only those born here will be selected. That is why we are fully committed in developing the sons of Leone so that they can one day represent our village and American Samoa to the world with pride.”
Maiava refers to his team’s taking the championship in the Ta’ita’itama sevens competition two years ago as proof of his belief that local players can make it to the top without the influence of guest players.
“Leone Whites won that championship using the sons of our village. Through hard work and dedication we can surprise a lot of international teams that will compete in the Marist sevens”, the confident Maiava remarks.
Co-coach So’onafai says the TMO Marist Pago International Sevens is a huge challenge for local clubs and their players to perform against some of the best athletes around the Pacific that will be playing here.
“We should be disciplined, but fight hard and carry the name of your club and American Samoa well on and off the field”.
Maiava adds, “Local players should be at their best, as scouts will be watching their moves on the field. They will be on the radar of the selectors that will pick an American Samoa team to play in the sevens tournament in the United States later on this year.”
Maiava states that many young men in Leone want to take part in the tournament but only a few have been selected because of international rules that dictate the number of players (12) to be used in IRB sanctioned sevens tournaments.
Melea Timo, who was a member of the American Samoa Rugby Union team that played in the New Caledonia Pacific Games sevens rugby tournament late last year, is the captain of the Leone Whites team. Others in the squad are: Eneliko Eneliko, Vai Tai, Isa’ako Le’uma, Petelo Noga, Charlie Uhrle, Taliu Puluvaga, Kirifi Ofagalilo, Lei Ve’ave’a, Loi Tuiteleleapaga, Kose Tatino, Va’alele Va’alele, Atonio Atonio, and Filipe Aporosa.
Leota Toma Patu is the patron of the Leone Whites team according to the two coaches but the position of president is vacant.
Maiava and So’onafai expressed their gratitude to TMO and Marist Pago for organizing the international sevens competition. “This is good for rugby in American Samoa,” they observe.
The Lalomalava Rugby Club based in Tafuna is made up of players from Samoa and American Samoa. Its patrons are Tau and Malaea Mavaega, parents of Peseta Sa Mavaega who founded the club.
Lalomalava is a village in the big Island of Savai’i, Samoa from where the Mavaega immigrated. Peseta’s playing days are over but is still involved in the affairs of the American Samoa Rugby Union as a member of its board, a referee, and tournament director.
Peseta has passed on the baton to the younger generation to continue the legacy of the Lalomalava club although he remains the club president.
The responsibility of training and preparing the team for the April 13 and 14 TMO Marist Pago International Seven a side tournament is now in the hands of head coach, Joey Malo. He has finalized his 15-man squad of which 12 players will make the final selection for the competition with three substitutes.
The three standby players will only be allowed to join the team on conditions that some of those in the final squad are either injured, ruled ineligible to play, or unable to take the field through other rulings based on rules and regulations governing the two day competition.
The Lalomalava group has named its captain. He is 25-year old Po’o Finau. Finau is married to Lima, who comes from the Lavata’i family from the village of Nu’uuli. They have two young children.
Finau is originally from Moata'a, Samoa a village that is popular for producing legendary rugby players like: Taufusi Salesa, To’o Vaega, Michael Jones, Filipo Sa’ena, Lolo Lui, Anitele’a Aiolupo, and many others.
The sprinter who graduated from Maluafou College in Samoa came to American Samoa in 2005 and works for the LBJ hospital.
The Lalomalava squad, according to coach Malo has been training for over a month at the Park in front of the ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank in Tafuna.
“The players are prepared for the tournament. We’re working on their combinations and skills, as many of them are rookies. But I’m confident that the experienced players will lead and show them how to adjust their play in tight situations.”
Malo is a former player and ran along side some former American Samoa rugby representatives like Ruben Luvu who gives technical advice to the team when he is available from his duties as a technical director of coaching for the local FIFA.
Speaking on the April tournament, coach Manu who also played international rugby in New Zealand said it would help develop the game of rugby in American Samoa.
“The participation of overseas teams from Samoa, Fiji, and New Zealand will have significant influence in the future of the sport in American Samoa. Our local players will get to see first hand the high skill level that will be exhibited by those that will take part in the international tournament.”
One issue that coach Malo would like the American Samoa Rugby Union to resolve is the involvement of guest players from overseas to play in local teams.
“This will hasten the development of players here. Our local players will learn a lot from well-known players their clubs will bring to play for them. They will not only share their experiences but also will hold Q&A sessions with the local athletes and hold clinics with those clubs.
“Local players as well as coaches will greatly benefit from their knowledge of the game. I sincerely hope that the union will relax these restrictions against the importation of guest players in next year’s tournament,” he declared.
Chairman Togiola Tulafono and the ASRU board have adamantly rejected pleas from some clubs to let them use players from overseas to play in their teams for this Flag Day TMO International sevens competition.
After all, this is an international tournament and not a local one and restrictions should not be strictly enforced according to those opposed to union rules banning imported players.
The Lalomalava squad is lead by captain Finau. Others are: Sulu, Tito, Kesi, Mike, Fa’afetai, Peti, Iele, Siama, Sione, Kema, Denzel, Lemo, Viane and Atapana. Joey Malo is the head coach.