American Samoa Rugby Union embarks on historic trip
Bluesky Communications, the major sponsor of American Samoa’s national 7’s rugby team, is proud to present profiles of the players and officials who will represent the territory at the upcoming IRB Hong Kong Qualifier tournament scheduled for March 28 for three days.
The team departed for the qualifier on Friday, Mar. 21st — to the cheers of well wishers and good luck.
Today, Bluesky features the three non-traveling reserves: Taeao Pa’aga, a 22 year-old player from the village of Nu’uuli, James Venasio, (19) from Vailoa, and Ross Poyer (25) who comes from Lauli’i.
“Go With The Team, Grandma Is With God” Parents told Taeao
Pa’aga had a hard decision to make in the summer of 2013. There were two events that happened at the same time that affected his young life.
First, he was selected for the first time in the Talavalu team that was scheduled to play in the IRB tournament in Fiji to select two representatives from the Oceania Region for this year’s Hong Kong Qualifier competition. Second, his beloved grandma, Loini Veti Lavata’i Pa’aga had passed away. She was over 80 years old.
Pa’aga told this correspondent that he was torn between leaving with the team on a very important mission — and that was to try and secure a place for American Samoa in Hong Kong, or stay behind and help bury his grandma.
“My family encouraged me to take the opportunity and go with the team to Fiji as I might never get another chance to represent American Samoa in international tournaments. My parents told me that it was best for me and my future in rugby to leave with the Talavalu team and not to worry about grandma as she was with God,” Pa’aga explains.
With a heavy heart and with the approval of his parents and family, Pa’aga took his position with the Talavalu team in Fiji. They succeeded in getting American Samoa a place in this week’s Hong Kong qualifier tournament along with the Cook Islands.
“I played my heart out and dedicated all the matches to my grandma’s memory. When we beat Papua New Guinea in the last minute to take American Samoa to Hong Kong, I was elated and felt all along that my grandma was with me during that time. I broke down and said a prayer of thanks to God, and for the soul of my grandma,” Pa’aga says.
He is one of three non-traveling reserves in the American Samoa team. What this means is that, should one of the players traveling to Hong Kong be injured or unable to play due to other circumstances, one of them will fly straight from here to Hong Kong and take that person’s place on the team.
“Even though we’re not there with the team, we still have to train and go through the drills so we can stay fit and be ready at a moment’s notice when one of us is called for active duty with the Talavalu squad,” Pa’aga explains.
Although he is not on the official party that left for Hong Kong last Saturday, Pa’aga’s younger brother, 18-year old Ryan will carry the family name in the tournament that will be held this weekend for three days at the Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, as Hong Kong is politically recognized.
Pa’aga continues his training with the Satani fautasi auva’a in their preparations for this year’s Flag Day Fautasi race. “Those of us that row for the Satani but are involved in the Talavalu team (the Pa’aga brothers, and Patrick Taisamoa Nglam) have a long standing invitation to take part in our fautasi activities whenever we are available,” Pa’aga says.
He has represented American Samoa in Fiji, Samoa, and Australia and has some good advice for the young players who want to get into rugby.
“I urge all new players to learn the rules of the game and play hard and clean. Fighting and rough play have no place in the sport. You must have the right attitude and prepare to make huge sacrifices if you want to succeed in rugby.”
Pa’aga was playing for his village’s team when he witnessed the brutal mauling of referee Ponifasio Vasa during the Nu’uuli/ Avele match three years ago. He says he does not want to see that happen again and that is why he is coming out and speaking against violence in rugby.
Pa’aga learned a lot about rugby when he went to Australia, last month to attend the training held at the Australian Institute of Sports in Canberra.
“We had oral and written tests about your responsibilities as a player both on and off the field, rules, diet, training drills and exercises and other important facts about rugby. It really opened my eyes and I want to share this knowledge with those who want to play rugby in the future.”
Pa’aga attended Tafuna High School and played football for the Warriors in the safety position. In rugby he can play as a halfback or 1st five. His dad, Taeao works for the Procurement Office and his mom, Daisy, is employed at the Port Administration.
He wishes the Talavalu team a safe trip and advises the players to play to the best of their knowledge and execute their moves well.
“I Want To Attend The Church Of My Choice,” Venasio To His Family.
Venasio is not a happy camper when Sundays roll around. He wants to practice Catholicism, his true faith and that of his dad, Iosefo but his mom, Tepora and her family belong to the Christian Congregational Church of American Samoa. They order him to go to their denomination. He does not like it at all.
Venasio has a rebellious nature and he demonstrates it openly every time he walks into his mom’s church. “I always make the sign of the cross as Catholics do every time they enter their Holy building. I am a devout Roman Catholic and this is my way of protesting against my family’s demand and sending them a message that I want to attend the church of my choice.”
According to Venasio, the only time he attended Catholic services was when he visited the big island of Savai’i, Samoa, where his father originated.
Venasio comes from a large family of eight sisters and brothers. He was born here and attended Midkiff Elementary School. When he graduated in 2008, his father sent him to his village of Maota in Savai’i to live with his family. He first enrolled at the Marist school and later went to the Uesili’aga College in Palauli. He started his rugby at both schools in Savai’i and claims he learned the sport quickly and became good at it.
When he returned to American Samoa in 2011, he went to Leone High School and played football with the Lions as a cornerback and receiver in his senior year. Venasio also played soccer and was the captain of the Lions’ athletic team.
He is six feet one inch tall and is a utility player. He joined the Vailoa rugby team last year featuring in the wing position. He led his club’s 7’s team to the Paramount tournament late last year and won the championship Trophy. Venasio was selected in the Talavalu team this year and has represented American Samoa in Australia and Samoa.
The young Talavalu player is a full time student at ASCC studying to be a nurse. His dad works at the LBJ Laundry division, while his mom looks after the family.
Venasio wants to concentrate on his rugby and specialize in the Sevens code. “I want to make it a career and will only play in sevens competitions from now on. I don’t want to play in 15-man rugby anymore.”
Venasio says his parents, family, and village support his time and effort spent with the Talavalu team and wants to share his knowledge with the young athletes from his village of Vailoa.
“They have shown a lot of interest in the sport and I think my selection in the American Samoa team has influenced their approach to rugby.”
“Quit Playing And Go look For A Job” Mom to Ross
“My mom wants me to quit playing and go look for a job. I really would like to be employed right now but at the same time, I must also give rugby my full dedication and focus,” Poyer tells this correspondent.
He now believes there is a way out of his predicament. He says the American Samoa Rugby Union is starting to pay allowances for players representing the territory in international competitions.
“This new policy will help players in the Talavalu squad make a career out of rugby. For example I’m not traveling to Hong Kong and yet I get paid as a reserve. It serves as an incentive for me to commit and devote all my time to rugby. Rugby has become my career, job, and a part of my life. It’s something that I enjoy doing. So why look for a job?”
Poyer’s younger brother, Joseph is in Hong Kong with the Talavalu team.
Ross Poyer went to Faga’itua High School and was a member of the Vikings soccer team. While at school, Poyer says he often skipped classes and soccer practice to join the Moli ole Ava rugby team for training at Onesosopo Park in Aua.
He graduated in 2006 and wanted to enter ASCC but because he was born in Samoa, it was hard and expensive for him to take classes there. He worked at the Samoa Packing from 2006- 09 and then at NEG. Later on, Poyer became an ASPA trainee in the Water Division. In 2011, he joined the construction company that remodeled the ASCC.
Poyer spent most of his young life in Manonouta, Samoa and attended the A’ana and St. Joseph’s schools while there. At the same time, he learned his rugby while growing up at his village and during his school days in Apia. He and brother Joseph came to American Samoa in 2003 and their aunt, Malia and her husband, Epa Poyer adopted them.
Poyer’s biological dad, Lolouta died in 1997 while his natural mom, Ioana divides her time between here and Samoa. He has eight brothers, one of whom has passed away. Five are in American Samoa, one lives in Apia and another in Australia.
Poyer was selected for the American Samoa team in 2011 and has represented the territory in tournaments held in New Caledonia, Fiji (twice), Samoa (three times), Hawai’i, and Australia. He is a designated halfback but can also play in the 1st five and fullback positions.
Poyer says he injured his right knee in Fiji last year and has never fully recovered from it. “I can still feel pain when I train.”
He wants to acknowledge those that have helped him.
“I’d like to thank my parents, family, my Catholic church in Lauli’i, our rugby club and my village for their prayers and support. I also would like to thank the people of American Samoa for their donations during our fundraising drives.
“I thank our sponsors, and the government for their generosity and faith in our Talavalu team. The whole team appreciates your love and we will play hard to honor your commitment and belief in our Talavalu team,” Poyer concludes.