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TMO Marist Sevens Draws Big Guns

Top 10 teams from Apia have confirmed their participation in the TMO Marist Pago International Sevens tournament slated for April 13 and 14.  Tournament director, Tuifa’asisina Tau "Tonkaman" Toluono revealed this information during the American Samoa Rugby Union meeting held at the New Market’s conference room in Fagatogo on Tuesday.

Current sevens champion, Vaiala heads a contingent of strong teams from Samoa.  Others are: Marist Sports club, Moata’a, Vailele, Tepatasi, Vaimoso, Apia, Lauli’i, Fagali’i and a team from the big island of Savai’i. 

“Two teams from Savai’i are on standby,” commented Tuifa’asisina. “One is from the Itu o Tane and the other is from the Fa’asaleleaga district.  Their coming to American Samoa to take part in the tournament depends on the availability of slots.  If any of the local teams will not field a squad for the TMO Flag Day sevens competition, one or both of them will be notified to pack their bags and head to the territory.”

Other international clubs that have made bookings for American Samoa are: the Tokelau national team, the Tongan Tautahi Rugby club from Nukualofa, the Marist Fiji squad from Suva, and the Ponsonby group from Auckland, New Zealand.

Tournament director, Tuifa’asisina told this correspondent that special guests from New Zealand and Samoa have been invited to attend the two-day event here.  New Zealand’s player of the year, All Blacks Jerome Kaino has been approached to visit his birthplace, American Samoa.  Kaino was born in Faga’alu over 25 years ago and has made a name for himself in the sports of rugby when he and his family moved to New Zealand at a very young age.

The over six feet tall American Samoan flanker is said to have suffered a season ending shoulder injury.  His operation schedule may come in conflict with his travel plans to the territory.  Others from New Zealand to come here are Papali’i Peter Fatialofa, the former Manu Samoa captain, former Manu Samoa star and All Blacks 2nd three quarters, Frank Bunce and ex All Blacks center, Joe Stanley.  Both are New Zealand born Samoans.

Perhaps the most feared man in rugby in his playing days, Brian Lima will also attend the TMO Marist Pago International Sevens tournament as a special guest.  Lima earned the memorable nickname of the “Chiropractor” for his bone shuddering hits during his illustrious career that spanned over 16 years. He is the only rugby player to have played in five World Cup tournaments. Last year he was inducted into the International Rugby Board’s Hall of Fame. He is the only Samoan player to have been bestowed that honor. Lima is regarded as the best Samoan rugby player of all time.

The deadline for local clubs to register and pay their $400 entry fees was Friday, March 16 and Marist Pago president, Tole’afoa Isitolo Wulf reminded that missing the deadline meant losing a slot in the draw.

“There are many teams from Apia that want to take part in the tournament but first preference is given to our local clubs. If you ignore the Friday deadline, then we will give that chance to teams from off-island to play in the competition,” Tole’afoa said.

Two local clubs have paid their registration fees to enter the TMO international Sevens.  These are: Marist Pago and Leone Whites. Other clubs that have shown interest in playing are: Utusi’a, Avele, Lalomalava, Pago Eagles, Fagatogo Blues, Taputimu, Aua All Blacks, Lauli’i, and Tafuna Jets.

Organizers are putting up an attractive first prize money purse of $10,000 to lure the big guns from Apia, Fiji, New Zealand and around the South Pacific.  Tuifa’asisina said all referees that will conduct games in the two-day tournament are imported from Kiwi land and Samoa.  Local officials will assist, according to the tournament director.

In other news, chairman of the ASRU, governor Togiola Tulafono has made known the International Rugby Board has given the green light to American Samoa’s application to become a full member of the world rugby’s governing body. 

“When I was in the States recently, I received an email from the IRB Oceania representative (Lefau) Harry Schuster, notifying me that the IRB executive committee has approved our request to be a permanent member of the IRB.  Their recommendation has been forwarded to the IRB Special Council and that body will give its final verdict on May 27.

“According to Lefau, that is just the last step and the Council will formalize it,” chairman Togiola told the meeting on Tuesday.

But the local union owes money to the IRB and granting of full membership to American Samoa will depend on the ASRU paying the IRB more than $4000.

“We will comply with the conditions set forth in order for us to become a full member of the IRB. Once we are accepted, funds and technical assistance will be available to our union. This is great news for us and the development of rugby here in American Samoa,” added Togiola.

The chairman also revealed that he has received an invitation for the territory’s sevens team to play in a tournament in the United States in June.  Togiola said in the meeting that he has accepted the invitation on behalf of the ASRU. However, the participation of the national team will depend on the funds to pay for the costs in travel and accommodations.

The current union account balance in one of the banks is a little over $300. Union treasurer, David Robinson told the club representatives attending the meeting that the union owes more than $16,000 to the American Samoa National Olympic Committee for sending a sevens team to the Pacific Games that were held in Noumea, New Caledonia late last year.

Chairman Togiola urged clubs that have not paid all their arrears to do so as the union needed money to finance its affairs. The union owes Governor Togiola’s office $25,000 for sending an under 19 rugby team to take part in a tournament held in Apia early last year.

“I have forgiven that debt,” the chairman announced at the meeting.