TATOORS make their presence felt in Marist Sevens
The fact that the American Samoa TATOORS made it to the Cup quarterfinals of the 26th Annual Vailima Marist Samoa Sevens during the weekend, spoke volumes for the Territory’s national team’s build-up to their historical and long-awaited entry to the 2014 Hong Kong Sevens next month.
Coached by former Manu Samoa Leota Setefano Fata whose name is in the history books as the only player from American Samoa to be selected in the Manu Samoa 15-a-side team in the 1990s, the TATOORS made their presence felt by topping their pool to qualify for the Cup quarterfinals.
“Our first pool game against a strong Satitoa side was like being thrust to the front lines straight from boot camp,” said Head Coach Leota. “But our boys held their own like seasoned warriors despite Satitoa scoring two tries to lead 12-0 in the opening minutes. Kamilo Soi narrowed the lead by touching down near the goal posts for a converted try to bring the halftime score to 12-7.Joseph Poyer scored the equalizer at the last minute to level the score at 12-12 at full time.”
With confidence, the TATOORS recorded their first victory of the tournament in their second pool game by defeating one of the powerhouses of Apia Rugby Union, SCOPA in a thrilling performance which saw Kamilo Soi touch down for his second try of the tournament and Kesimale Fatitauai crossing the line near the goal posts for his first.
Both tries were converted by Pentateuch Vaki to bring the score to 14-0.
SCOPA however managed to score a late try in the dying minutes bringing the full time score to 14-7.
Satitoa managed to defeat SCOPA with a score of 12-7, so the pool placing was determined by points putting the TATOORS at the top, advancing to the Cup quarterfinals.
On the second day of play, the TATOORS’ Cup campaign came to an end at the hands of tournament favorites Vailima Marist in an action-packed encounter which ended in a 22-7 victory to Marist.
With the crowd behind them, Marist punched holes in the TATOORS’ defense.
But the TATOORS’ fought on bravely to the last minute and were rewarded when Niki Lua crossed the Marist tryline to record their only points of the game.
Relegated to the semifinals of the Plate competition, the TATOORS were up against another powerhouse of sevens rugby, the Tepatasi Club from Lotopu’e, Aleipata – Manu Samoa winger Tom Iosefo’s original club.
Tepatasi opened the scoring with two tries to lead 10-0.
Stung into action, the TATOORS stepped up their frontal attacks and rewarded with a try to Tai Samoa which was not converted, bringing the score to 10-5.
In the dying minutes, Maugalei Veavea crossed the Tepatasi tryline near the goal posts and would have scored the winning try had he not fumbled the ball while he was trying to dot it down.
But Coach Leota Setefano Fata expressed his satisfaction with his players’ efforts.
“I’m very proud of the way our boys played against the best sevens players in Samoa and from New Zealand,” Leota acknowledged. “Samoa is a rugby-mad nation and rightly so as they have reached the pinnacle of international sevens rugby by winning the IRB Sevens Circuit in 2010. Unlike the Manu Samoa 15-a-side squad which recruits the majority of its members from players contracted to overseas clubs, the Samoa Sevens team is selected from local players.
“And the Annual Vailima Marist Sevens is the final trials for the Samoa Rugby Union to select their best players for the Hong Kong Sevens. So our boys were pitted against the best sevens players here and I’m very proud with the way they held their own.”
Coach Leota said that there are few areas which they will be working on to improve their set plays and tighten up a few loose ends before they embark on their historical entry to the Hong Kong Sevens.
“I’d like to thank Governor Lolo Moliga and his administration for their assistance, the American Samoa Rugby Union and all the people of American Samoa who have shown their support in our preparations,” Leota acknowledged.
Leota is now in Canberra with 7 players of the Talavalu Training Squad (TATOORS), Taeao Paaga, Pentateuch Vaki, Feite Okesene, Kamilo Soi, Niki Kata Lua, James Iosefo Venasio and Joseph Ray Poyer to participate in the Oceania 7's academy at the Australian Institute of Sports, Feb. 24- 27th. Participation in such an elite academy was by an invitation extended and funded by the IRB when American Samoa qualified for the Hong Kong Series.
The remaining eight members, Iakopo Atonio, Ross Poyer, Patrick T. NgLam, Maugalei Veavea, Tali Tauese, Ryan Paaga, David Silva, Tesimale Fa itauai remaining with team manager Tommy Elisara to undergo further intensive training at the High Performance Unit of the Samoa Rugby Union headquarters.
Terry Custodio Auvaa contributed to this story.