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Lauli’i And Utusi’a Use Onesosospo Park To Train For Int. 7’s

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The Utusi'a Eastside Knights Rugby club sevens team. [photo: FV]

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 the 13 and 14 of April. This coverage is made possible through the sponsorship of TMO and host club, Marist Pago

LAULI’I MOLI OLE AVA RUGBY CLUB

Vui Tuatagaloa Elisala is perhaps the longest serving member of the American Samoa Ruby Union, who is still involved in club rugby here in the territory. Vui and other former Avele College students founded the Avele Rugby Club here more than two decades ago. He is now the coach of the Lauli’i Moli Ole Ava Rugby Club and serves as president.

Vui is preparing his team for the TMO Marist Pago International sevens competition and has over 10 members in his squad. They use the Onesosopo Park to train. They share the field with Utusi’a rugby club to prepare their teams for the upcoming sevens competition. 

The Aua Rugby club also trains its team there, but the village is not taking part in the main event next week as rugby coach, Pine has traveled off island to attend to family matters, according to leader of the Aua aumaga, Leonard Sonoma Liufau.

Lauli’i coach, Vui is working with many new members teaching them the basic skills of passing the ball, tackling, and explaining the rules of the game.

“Most of my squad from last year have left for the States but the new breed of players show a lot of hope. They are eager to learn how to play rugby. They used to play football in High Schools so they are fit athletes and understand what I expect them to do,” Vui says.

There are four players in the Lauli’i team that represented American Samoa to international competitions in Samoa and in New Caledonia last year. They are; Seite Alo Okesene, who is the Lauli’i team captain, Ross Poia and brother Joe, and Ropeti Taula.

Others in the Lauli’i Moli Ole Ava team are: Joe Tualatai, Usugafono Sola’ita, Vala Sataio, Petelo Silati, Junior Peni, Tavita Silva, Steve Silva, Uili Pulou, Kolio Leo, Oge Vaisagote, Chris To’omata, Sataio Vala, and Geoffery Tagaloa.

“We have a young team and the players are looking forward for the opportunity to play against the professional players that will be here for the sevens tournament.  I’d like to thank Marist and their many sponsors for the hard work and effort in putting together this international competition.  It’s not an easy thing to do but they have managed to attract good players and teams from Samoa, New Zealand and Fiji to play here.

“This is good for the development of rugby in American Samoa. Our local players will get the chance to meet and play against the off-island professionals. I hope they will learn a lot of rugby skills from them,” Coach Vui adds.

He admits that his players lack the experience except for a couple of them. “One of the things that I stress is their attitude as they prepare for hard training; what they eat, what they drink. I advise them not to drink soda all the time but its hard to break old habits. Soda is not good for the body but it’s not easy for them to put the soda down and drink water instead.”

Vui explains that his team has been training hard for the last five weeks working on the use of the ball and sharpening combinations he hopes will work during the game. “The players are fit, and their skills are getting better everyday.”

Last Saturday, Vui divided his squad into two teams and held scrimmage at Onesosopo Park for about three hours. “I haven’t finalized the final 12 players that will represent our club. Our workout last weekend gave me some indication on who will be picked,” Vui remarks.

The coach is looking for an assistant to help out in the running and training of the Lauli’i Rugby club. “I urgently need someone to share the load with. We had Taylor Aulava last year as an assistant coach, but he has left to join the Army. To’oto’o Aleki is another candidate for the job but he is busy with work and has little time to spend with the club.”

Vui says the players are prepared for the competition and will do everything they can to represent their village of Lauli’i.

He wants to thank the Lauli’i faipule in the Fono, Pulelei’ite Tufele for sponsoring the team and for his help in other areas. The Lauli’i coach also wants to thank faipule Lemapu Talo from Masefau for his support as well.

The Lauli’i coach also offers his fa’afetai to his village of Lauli’i for their tapua’iga and prayers to ensure the safety of the players and for his team’s effort to come to a successful conclusion.

UTUSI’A EASTSIDE KNIGHTS RUGBY CLUB

Utusi’a is a tiny sub village of Faga’itua on the east side of Tutuila. It is not large enough to form a full rugby team of 15 players, as there are not that many people who live there. That is why coach and founder of the Utusi’a Eastside Knights Rugby club, Marsh Uele recruits players from around Tutuila to assemble a seven a side team.

“Our players come from Aoa, Faga’itua, Auto, Avaio, Fagatogo, and Fatu ma Futi. Most are new to the game but many played football in their respective high schools like Samoana and Faga’itua,” coach Uele says.

The Avele College (in Samoa) educated coach started the Utusi’a Rugby club in 2009. “I live on the mountains of Utusi’a. I plant taros and bananas. One day I came down to the village and saw kids playing rugby on the beach. So an idea of forming a rugby team came to my mind then and that was how we started,” Uele explains.

That year, Utusi’a entered the then West Side Rugby Union’s sevens tournament. “We did not win a single game. But in 2010 and 2011 we reached the sevens final each year but lost both times. The players, supporters and I were very happy with our progress. We came a long way from being winless in our first year to getting to the finals in two successive years after that. To me that was a great achievement for our new and young team,” Uele says.

Uele was born here but when he was young, he visited Independent Samoa where his mom was originally from and loved it there. He stayed in Apia and enrolled at Avele College where he was educated for five years.

“I returned to American Samoa in 2000 and enlisted in the Army. I served for seven years and was injured during active duty. I received my medical discharge from the Army and retired thereafter with benefits,” the 38-year old Utusi’a resident comments.

Coach Uele’s team members are: Afusega, who is the Utusi’a Eastside Knights team captain, Junior Fa’afao, Sisi, Pati Ole, Mata’alio, Sualua, Tanielu, Faitalia, Tasi, Daniel, Fa’amasino, Tofiga, and Chirstopher.

“Two of our experienced players, Ross and Joe Poia are now playing for their village team Lauli’i. The two brothers who are my relatives played for us in 2010 and early last year. But they decided to play for Lauli’i in the 15-man a side competition in 2011,” Uele remarks.

The Utusi’a Rugby club was warned by the American Samoa Rugby Union during a union meeting held recently to pay its outstanding membership fees or it would not be allowed to play in the TMO Marist Pago International Sevens competition that will kick off next week on Friday and Saturday.

Chairman Gov. Togiola Tulafono told the Utusi’a  representatives it appeared Eastside Knights just came to play in sevens tournaments but would not participate in the 15-man tournaments. “When we have fund raising activities Utusi’a does not contribute either. Well I’m warning you now to pay up all your current debts to the union before you are permitted to enter a team for the international sevens competition.”

Uele did not attend the meeting but says there was a misunderstanding between the union and his club on the matter. “This has been resolved and the Utusi’a club’s name is cleared.”

Coach Uele would have liked to bring at least three international players to play for his team in next week’s competition. “I think the union is mixed up with the International Rugby Board rules that ban the use of players from another country to play in another nation’s national team. The Marist Pago tournament is restricted to club sides only but teams can use professional players.”

The Utusi’a coach says local players can learn a lot from playing alongside professionals from overseas.

“We can’t develop rugby here if we play against local players all the time. Whereas having professionals mixed with local team members, they inspire, push, and encourage our players to shift their rugby to a higher level. This I believe is the only way we can develop the game in the territory. I sincerely hope that the union will reassess these restrictions and make amendments to accommodate the wish of the clubs because the majority wants changes.”

Coach Uele says the safety of his club players is the most important thing for him. “The professionals train and play like professionals. I caution my players to look out for each other and have fun playing.”

The Lauli'i Moli Ole Ava ClubSevens rugby team. [photo: FV]


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