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Defending champs Vaiala prepare for tourney

The champions of last year’s inaugural TMO Marist Pago 7's Tournament, the Betham Brothers Enterprises (BBE) Vaiala Ulalei are quietly preparing to defend their title in this year’s tourney.


One of the original rugby powerhouses in Samoa, the black jerseys of the Vaiala Rugby Club which have earned them the nickname “Blackie,” have often been seen in championship games through the years.


And indeed, they have won many championships and titles, and many of their players have gone on to wear the blue jersey of Manu Samoa.


They are the current Samoa Sevens Circuit champions for four consecutive seasons from 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. They are also the reigning King of Rugby champions, a title they will be defending during the Teuila Festival this year. They were also runners-up in last year’s Samoa Marist St. Joseph Sevens, narrowly losing to Marist in the final.


However, despite all these achievements, current head coach Rudy Leavasa emphasized that they are taking all their games seriously and he is trying to instill in his players an “underdog attitude” as they prepare to defend their title.


“As we have witnessed in the ongoing IRB Sevens Circuit, every team has stepped up their preparations and every team is a potential leg winner,” Leavasa said. “There is absolutely no room for complacency in the game of Sevens nowadays and that is the attitude I want my boys to have as they run onto the field in Pago.”


No stranger to the game himself, Coach Rudy Leavasa, a former Manu Samoa prop during the 1990’s, has been there and done that. He recalled the year he captained the Samoa Savaii team in the inaugural Pacific Nations Cup against teams from Tonga and Fiji when against all odds, they defeated a strong Fiji Barbarians side to win the cup.


“Low key is the way to go,” he declared.


According to the coach, they haven’t finalized their lineup yet as they are awaiting the return of the national sevens team to see if two of their key players, Alatasi Tupou and Patrick Faapale, can be released to join the team for the 2013 TMO Marist Pago Tourney.


“If they cannot be released, we will replace them with up-and-coming players Lomitusi Vavao and Cenntenial Nofoaiga,” he revealed. “Also, Manu Samoa 15’s winger Robert Lilomaiava, who gained international fame by scoring four tries during his debut against Wales, is also a member of our club and he will be on the wing.”


Assistant coach JP Junior Leota, a former Manu Samoa Sevens utility back is working closely with the backline on their combinations and defense and attacking tactics.


According to Leota, two of their players, Robert Lilomaiava and Centennial Nofoaiga sustained injuries during their friendly games with the Vaimoso Rugby Club last week.


He added that they won all six friendly games with Vaimoso and Robert suffered a cut near his eye while Centenniel sprained his ankle but fortunately, both players have recovered.


Team manager Laifa Petersen said that four of their players from last year’s winning team will not be able to make it this year due to other commitments.


“Misioka Timoteo has secured a contract in Ireland where he is currently playing, Alex Samoa is now playing in New Zealand, while Meki Purcell has switched to basketball and Lei’a Saofaiga has changed codes and is in the Toa Samoa training squad for the Rugby League World Cup Tournament later on this year,” Petersen explained.


The team manager said that they had started training in mid February to prepare for the Samoa Marist St. Joseph Sevens Tournament which had originally been slated for March, but it had not eventuated.


“So we have been training for about six weeks now,” said Petersen. “We started with a 60% to 70% level of fitness which we hope to improve before we leave for Pago.


He also acknowledged with thanks the support of their sponsor Betham Brothers Enterprises (BBE), and other local businesses which have generously supported their preparations like JP Fitness Gym at Vaimea, Samoa Commercial Bank, Eveni Sports and Alaimoana Hotel.


“Our strategy is really very simple,” said Petersen. “We will play every game as if it is the final and we will give it our all for our families and village.”