TMO Marist 7s Flag Day Tournament — last hurrah
The 3rd and last TMO Marist American Samoa 7s Flag Day Tournament is taking place at the Tafuna Veterans Stadium today, Friday, Apr. 11 and Saturday, Apr. 12.
Eight local teams and 15 teams from Samoa are playing for the championship Cup and $10,000 first prize.
The local teams are: A’asu, Avele, Tafuna Jets, Marist, Nu’uuli, Lauli’i, Lalomalava, and Leone.
The 15 teams from Samoa: Vaiala, Vailele, Vaimoso, Valima Marist St. Joseph, Vailima Pure Marist Angels, Apia Maroons, Laulii Lions, Taga Blow Holes, Fa'atoia, Satitoa, Tepatasi, Lalomauga, Neiafu - Itu Asau, Nofoali'i, and Moata’a Togo A’asa.
TMO, the tournament’s major sponsor is proud to feature profiles of the 15 teams from Samoa and the 8 local teams that are playing.
Today, TMO presents the last of the profiles of the teams from Samoa: Tepatasi — the runner-up in the bowl competition of the 2014 Vailima Marist Samoa International Sevens Tournament last month, Moata’a Togo A’asa — known as the “rugby village or All Blacks legend Michael Jones’ village”.
Tepatasi, A Force To Be Reckoned With
The Tepatasi sevens team burst into the national sevens arena in 2002 and with grit and determination, established themselves firmly in the top echelon of sevens rugby in Samoa.
At the time, sevens rugby was dominated by the original powerhouses in the Apia township area such as Moata’a, Marist, Vaiala, Apia, Vaimoso and SCOPA.
Then a team of gangly but solid youths from Lotopu’e, a village in the Aleipata district on the far eastern coast of Upolu, an hour and a half ride from Apia, most of whom were farmers, jogged on to the field at Apia Park and proved to everyone that they can hold their own against any team in the land.
Since then, they have been cup finalists in many tournaments in Samoa and abroad including American Samoa, winning some. Their last cup final appearance in the Territory was in the Inaugural Tautua Mo Oe Marist American Samoa International Sevens Tournament in 2012 where they lost to two-time defending champions BBE Vaiala Ulalei.
Last year, they bowed out in the cup quarterfinals and went on to win the plate competition by defeating Vaimoso.
This year, only two players have been exposed to international competition beyond American Samoa. They are Vaiofoga Simanu and Afioa’e Maiava, who were selected in the Samoa ‘A’ squad that returned recently from the Pacific Rugby Cup competition in Australia.
Tepatasi will also be without their other player with international sevens experience, Sani Fereti, who will be playing for the Laulii Lions, his wife’s village team.
Four players of their lineup have never played outside of Samoa and this will be their first taste of rugby on foreign soil.
The most famous Tepatasi player is Manu Samoa Sevens speedster Tom Iosefo who played in the earlier legs of the ongoing IRB World Sevens Circuit and has become one of the most prolific try scorers in Manu Samoa sevens history.
The Tepatasi team is the brainchild of Pastor Malo Sefo of the Lotopu’e Assembly of God Church. He is Tom Iosefo’s uncle and the man who got the then 19 year-old speedster on his way to international stardom.
Despite the lack of experienced players in his team, Pastor Sefo is confident that his team will rise to the challenge as they did when they first entered national competition at Apia Park.
“They were all rookies then, but they played like seasoned professionals because they had faith in God and themselves,” he declared. “So I see this year’s TMO Marist Pago Sevens as another opportunity for our boys to shine and a chance for our new players to gain valuable experience to start them off in their careers.”
According to Pastor Sefo, when he was first appointed to work as a pastor at the Lotopu’e Assembly of God parish, he was only 24 years old. An avid rugby player, the young pastor played in the Lotopu’e rugby team.
In 2002, he organized a rugby tournament where his parish youth formed teams and competed amongst themselves. At the time, the Lotopu’e matai council had banned the village youth from competing in competitive sports because of fights with youth from other villages in the Aleipata district.
Youth groups of the various church denominations in the village were exempt from this ban.
“So the village youths started joining our youth rugby tournament,” Pastor Sefo recalled. “It was like a vision from God for me to use the game of rugby as a way to reach out to the young people of our village and give them something positive to strive for instead of ruining their lives with alcohol and drugs, and to give them spiritual advice and guidance.”
Eventually, he approached the council and requested that the ban be lifted and a village team be formed to compete in the Aleipata District Rugby Union.
With the village council’s approval and blessing, he formed what was to become the Tepatasi team.
He also explained how the team got to be named Tepatasi.
“In Lotopu’e, there is a stretch of land near the sea adjacent to our parish compound called Tepatasi,” he said. “The name originates from the time when the Tongans were being driven out of Samoa by Tuna and Fata and their warriors.
“Legend has it that the fleeing Tongans ran for their lives along this stretch of land and as they reached their canoes anchored along the coast, they would hurriedly take a furtive glance backward to see if any Samoan warriors were near or to see if any spears or rocks were flying toward them before paddling for dear life out to sea. That is how that stretch of land came to be called Tepatasi and I decided to name our team after it because it is relevant to the whole of the Aleipata district.”
Pastor Malo Sefo who is also the team manager is supported by Assistant Coach Faigata Sali.
Moata’a Ready For Battle
Rugby enthusiasts in American Samoa will be thrilled to know that Lolo Lui, the man whose magic boot enabled the Manu Samoa sevens team to snatch victory from their opponents on several occasions, will be leading his Moata’a Togo A’asa club team on to the field at the Veterans’ Memorial Stadium tomorrow.
Known as the “rugby village or All Blacks legend Michael Jones’ village,” Moata’a has been the spawning ground of many rugby greats from the early days of the game in Samoa like Keli Tuatagaloa Imo, former Police Commissioner Asi Semisi Blakelock and Faleata Asi, to the eighties and nineties with players like Taufusi Salesa, Lolani Koko, Anitele’a Aiolupo and Alefaio Vaisuai, to more recent times with players like Lolo Lui, Li’a Palala and Faalemiga Selesele to name a few.
They were invited for the last two years to compete in the Tautua Mo Oe Marist American Samoa International Sevens Tournament, but they could not make it due to unforeseen circumstances.
According to Assistant Coach Malagamaalii Tofilau Vaima’a, they have received approval from their village council to compete in this year’s tourney and they are ready for battle.
Malagamaalii revealed that Faalemiga Selesele who played for defending champions BBE Vaiala Ulalei last year and received the MVP Award, will not be playing for Vaiala this year as earlier reported.
Apart from Faalemiga Selesele and Lolo Lui, the only other player with international sevens experience in their lineup is promising center Logofaalii Toa who played for the Manu Samoa in earlier legs of the ongoing IRB World Sevens Circuit.
Two players were part of the Samoa ‘A’ squad who recently returned from the Pacific Rugby Cup competition. They are Falanisisi Fenika and Dan Mariner.
“The rest are young promising players we are hoping to develop and nurture for the future,” Malagamaalii said.
Like Marist, the Moata’a club is undergoing a development stage as most of their senior players have secured overseas contracts and others are nearing retirement.
This was evident in their performance in last month’s Vailima Marist Samoa International Sevens Tournament where they had to settle for the shield.
“But with the experience Lolo and Logofaalii in the backs and Selesele in the forwards, I’m optimistic that they will inspire the rest to perform to the best of their abilities,” he said. “We have a long proud history in the game and we’ve been there and done it many times. So we’re going to concentrate on taking each game as it comes and focus on progressing to the cup competition.”
The Rest of the Best From Samoa
Other teams that will be vying for the Tautua Mo Oe Marist American Samoa International Sevens tomorrow include Vaimoso and Faatoia in the Apia town area, Lalomauga from the east coast of Upolu, Nofoalii from the west coast and three teams from Savaii, the Taga Blowholes, Siutu, Salailua and Neiafu Itu Asau.
This is the third time Vaimoso has been invited and this year, they are led by Manu Samoa flyer Tulolo Tulolo who is just back from injury which caused him to miss out on selection in the last two legs of the IRB World Sevens Circuit.
“He is about 98% recovered but he is determined to play in Pago,” said Coach Crichton.
Also featured in their lineup are Elia Saumani and Etuale Pitoni who were selected in the Manu Samoa training squad earlier this year, Talaga Alofipo and Komiti Manuleleua of recent Samoa ‘A’ selection and Lila Si’a who was selected in the Toa Samoa for last year’s Rugby League World Cup.
Vaimoso has been unsuccessful in their bid for the TMO Marist Pago Sevens cup having lost to Laulii in the cup quarterfinals last year. They managed to reach the plate final but succumbed to the Apia Maroons.
Letiutamatoa Jr. Pouono is their assistant coach and manager is Sa’u Toeupu Kaisara.
Faatoia is a relatively new team which was put together in 2007.
According to Head Coach Fono Pitoitua, players from Faatoia, which traditionally are a part of Vaiala, used to play BBE Vaiala Ulalei. However, as the population increased, selection in the Vaiala teams became very difficult as there were too many players.
So in 2007, he decided to put together a team comprising players living in the Faatoia area.
The very next year, they had advanced from senior reserve status to senior ‘A’ and in 2009/ 2010, they had managed to win the shield of the 15-a-side Apia Rugby Union domestic league.
It was also the first year they competed in the Annual Vailima Marist Samoa International Sevens tourney, where they bowed out in the bowl final to the Laulii Lions.
The national selectors were impressed with the new kids on the block’s performance and selected the first player from Faatoia, Tuia’i Taulima, in the Manu Samoa training squad.
Faatoia is now firmly established in the national sevens scene and they are included in the top ten teams in the national rankings.
Lalomauga is another team from the rural area, which lack in experience — but has a “never say die” attitude.
This is their third appearance in the Territory and according to Head Coach Toga Silimai Letoa, they jumped at the chance to participate in this year’s TMO Marist Pago Sevens so that their players can gain valuable experience.
Captained by Talalelei malo, a former Tepatasi and Under 20 national player, the rest of the team are mainly young and inexperienced rookies.
Their only experience in international sevens has been the annual Vailima Marist Samoa Sevens in which they have pitted themselves against local and overseas teams.
This year, they defeated Lepea in the bowl quarterfinal but lost to Satitoa in the semis.
Coach Toga said that they have been undergoing intensive training sessions for the last two weeks and feel they ready for Pago.
According to Taga Head Coach Vaovasamanaia Tuua Tamala, only two of their players are schooling – one at the National University of Samoa, and the other at Palauli College. The rest stay at home and look after their families.
“We have a young and inexperienced team,” said Vaovasamanaia. “For most of them, this is the first tourney they have competed in outside of Samoa, so this is a very important opportunity for them to feel what it is like to play in another country.”
However, he pointed out that they did well in last month’s Vailima Marist Samoa International Sevens where they defeated the team from Wainiuomata, New Zealand, but bowed out to the Marist Federation team, also from Aotearoa in the bowl semifinal.
They also came close to upsetting BBE Vaiala Ulalei in pool games.
“We want to instill in these youngsters that just because they come from Savaii doesn’t mean they can’t take on the big guns and go away with a win,” said the coach. “We want them to believe in themselves.”
Coach Vaovasamanaia revealed that they a aiming to finish with a spot in the top eight teams.
The Siutu, Salailua team has only three players who played in the national sevens circuit. They are Segio Falevaai, his brother Lafi Falevaai and Misipati Tautala.
The other players are students, the youngest being only 17 years old, who is in Year 13 at Palauli I Sisifo College.
Their latest sevens encounter was the Falealupo Sevens Tournament in which they reached the cup quarterfinals but lost to Auala. They then defeated Salailua 2 in the plate semifinal but bowed out to Salailua 1 in the final.
The team has been training under the supervision of Rev. Talosaga Hitila and Catholic priest Father Lolesio.
According to Assistant Coach Aleki Laki, their boys are light but fit.
“I have also stressed to them the importance of good sportsmanship and to always be on their good behavior both on and