May 10, 2021 Last Updated 2:42 AM, May 10, 2021

Samoa women’s sevens coach Auimatagi Sapani believes Olympic qualification could help unite the Pacific Island nation.

Both the Manusina and their male counterparts remain in contention for a place at Tokyo 2020, and are scheduled to compete in the Olympic repechage tournament in Monaco next month.

The two teams came close to qualifying for Rio 2016, as Manu Samoa lost the repechage final to Spain on the last play of the match, while the country’s women were beaten by Kazakhstan in their quarter-final.

Should either team be able to secure their place at a first Games, then Sapani hopes it can provide some cheer for a country currently in political deadlock.

“I want Samoans to come together in Samoa to celebrate if Manusina qualify for the Olympics,” he told World Rugby.

“We are confident we have the best team, who wants to qualify for the Olympics. Our players have international experience and they've played the best sevens teams in the world, like Australia, Fiji and New Zealand. 

“We have players who are free on the field and they contribute to the watchability of the games.”

Keeping the Olympic dream alive

Sapani and his counterpart with Manu Samoa, Brian Lima, have seen their plans for Olympic qualification affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Manusina have not competed in an international tournament since November, 2019, when they finished fifth at the Oceania Women’s Sevens Championship.

Samoa’s men, meanwhile, were last in action at the HSBC Canada Sevens in March, 2020, where they lost their ninth-place semi-final to France — who will arguably be their biggest rivals for qualification in Monaco.

Both squads have been preparing for the repechage tournament with domestic training camps and tournaments, while Sapani picked a squad of 16 players in February.

COVID restrictions have meant that neither coach has been able to include overseas players in their plans so far, although Sapani hopes to have four New Zealand-based players with the squad in France.

Several male and female Samoan players, including men’s captain Tomasi Alosio, did take part in the Takiwhitu Tūturu tournament in Wellington last month. And, the teams hope to be able to hold a training camp in New Zealand on their way to France. 

“Losing to Spain [in the Rio 2016 repechage final] was really heartbreaking so that's what kept most of us in, [to] just keep the Olympic dream alive to come back and really find any opportunity to be an Olympian,” Alosio said last month.

“Leading into June we've just got to put in the hard work… and just going over there knowing that we're going to give it 100 per cent.”

Huge impact

For Sapani, helping the Manusina to qualify for Tokyo would mark the end of a journey that began in 2015, when he took charge of the Samoan side for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Apia.

“Some of those girls are in today's team,” he said. “To witness them in matches as a coach is a win for me and to qualify for the Olympics is a bonus.”

Former Samoa women’s international Filoi Eneliko has been working with the Manusina in her role as Samoa Lakapi Womens Academy Manager, and she believes Olympic qualification could be transformative.

“It [would be] a huge achievement and impact for our girls,” she said. 

“It's a huge impact for our local women here too, you know, they just want to reach the highest level of competition. 

“If we qualify for Tokyo then we're getting the support from all the parents, all the support from schools, all the support from clubs and even our whole country is going to support the girls and get their daughters to come and play rugby.”

Eneliko added: “Some [parents] do not allow their daughters to come and play rugby, but if we do qualify for Tokyo that is the biggest impact in their lives and they will let their daughters play rugby.”

A new rugby franchise to the US national competition may provide a life-line for some Pacific islands rugby players.

The  website of Hawaii-based Kanaloa Rugby bears the quote, “From the depths of breadths of the sea; strength and courage shall rise”. It’s a fitting sentiment as the world, and world sport, is ravaged by COVID-19.

“Kanaloa is a culmination of 16 years of community rugby services offered to the wider Maori and Pasifika community,” says CEO, Tracy Atiga. “ The founding roopu behind Kanaloa Hawaii believes in the potential for the community to thrive through the values and efforts of giving back.   In January 2021, The Colorado Raptors unfortunately withdrew from the MLR competition, [Major League Rugby- th U.S. league] leaving an opportunity for a willing franchise to bid for an entry into the league.  This is when Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby took flight”.   

Players of Pacific Island heritage play in competition, and represent nations all over the world. So we asked the CEO if this could be another stepping stone for our rugby players to rise, showcase their talents and secure good contracts?

“The beauty of having a club that is driven by Maori and Pasifika values and village ethos is our commitment to encouraging and supporting our athletes to play for their home nation,” Atiga responded.  “Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby offers a unique stance that all players that are selected for national honours are to be encouraged to participate and financially supported throughout the said national campaign.  We are challenging other clubs to follow suit. We believe that if a club does not release a player for national representation then they have limited trust and faith in the depth of their players and their coaching staff.  Here at Kanaloa, we back our coaching roopu and our emerging players to step up when the opportunity presents itself.  In other words, if we lose 23 starting line-up players to the RWC or the Olympic Games then we will celebrate and support those players and we will still progress to a championship through faith and encouragement of our emerging players”.

To help establish the club’s  foundations and cultivate it to blossom, Kanaloa has acquired the services of a few big names and rugby legends in its management ranks. Former All Blacks stars such as Joe Rokocoko, Anthony Tuitavake, Ben Atiga and two-time Webb Ellis Cup winner Jerome Kaino have taken interests in developing Kanaloa into a club best suited for our Pacific rugby talents.

“Our former All Blacks have devoted the past 16 years of their lives to giving back to the game.  The chance to now give back as club owners provides direct advocacy and decision making opportunities to make things right.  Operationally, our former All Blacks are rallying together to attract other like-minded sports professionals, celebrities and members of the global rugby community to embrace this new way of doing business and changing the world one day at a time,” Atiga says.

The main feature of the club is the use of traditional and communal practices of working together as a community—as a group of Pacific Islands people—to carry each other forward and achieve more in life through rugby.

“One of our policies that support our village ethos and portray the way we are living our values is the fact that our entire team of staff are being paid the same base hourly wage.  From the CEO to our players to our rugby development officers”.

We know that rugby continues to grow around the world as a global sport. And for the Pacific Islands, rugby over the many years has evolved from just being a past time game that everyone loves to play and having the pride of representing our nations in the world stages – to now totally becoming a guaranteed career path to earn a living. Nowadays, rugby is essentially a job, and for a player to do it professionally and play in lucrative overseas franchises – that is the ultimate goal. Kanaloa just might be that much needed life-line for local talents to thrive in overseas rugby competitions and in this case it’s in the United States of America.

*[Roopu: is a Maori word that means group, party of people, company or committee]

Fiji has won the Sydney 7s for the first time ever, defeating old rivals South Africa in a thrilling match last night.

Both teams were out for redemption having not progressed past the pool stages last week.

It was a tough and fair encounter with both teams struggling to maintain possession of the ball in the wet conditions in Parramatta.

In the end the Fiji warriors managed to shrug off a dangerous green and gold Blitzbokke side who were always threatening to steal the win away from the Fijians.

Fiji won with 12 points to 10 with Napolioni Bolaca named as the HSBC Sydney 7s player of the final.

The win capped a better day for Pacific gladiators at the tournament.

The Fijianas were in absolute phenomenal form yesterday morning to beat newcomers to the sport, Brazil, by a whopping 31 – 0.

They then met England for the fifth place play-off.

The Fijianas proved to be worthy opponents, beating England by 17 points to 5. It was the second time in two weeks the English women had suffered defeat at the hands of the Fijianas.

The Fijianas have moved from 9th to 7th position overall in the series, and are looking very promising.

Back in the men’s competition, Samoa lost their last pool match against South Africa (36 – 0) but was able to snatch a win in the tournament against Kenya, and 15th place in the tournament.

Earlier on the way to the final , Fiji flattened a strong Welsh side with a 55 – 0 victory. Waisea Nacuqu was the key player for his side in that game.

They then beat the determined English side in the semi-finals 17 – 14 to secure their first Cup final appearance in the 2020 HSBC 7s series.

 “To all the supporters who came out in numbers to support us, this win is for you too, ” Fiji captain Meli Derenalagi told the crowd.

New Zealand took home the women’s title beating Canada 33 – 7. The Black Ferns have won 4 titles in row this season.

The next leg of the HSBC 7s series will be held in Los Angeles, USA from the 29th February – 1st March.

Fiji is  now ranked at 5th overall in the series with 53 points and Samoa is in  13th spot with 23 points.

New Zealand still lead the ladder with 76 points.

The Fiji 7s Men’s team was disappointed yesterday in Hamilton despite its strong performance in day one of the competition, but is now looking to the Sydney leg of the competition.

While disappointed with their performance, veteran halfback and co-captain Jerry Tuwai remains hopeful for the future: “To everyone back in Fiji, trust us we can come back. Fiji can rise again from this defeat.”

Although the side managed to meet the tough challenges issued by neighbours Samoa and Australia on Saturday,  they couldn’t handle Argentina on Sunday, losing emphatically in its last pool match.

As a result, Fiji joined Samoa at the bottom of the pool.

Fiji later won against South Africa to finish 9th in Hamilton, maintaining its 7th spot on the overall World Rugby 7s series rankings.

Samoa sits at number 12 in the rankings.

The Fijiana (women's) side also lost their final pool match early Sunday morning to the New Zealand Black Ferns 38 – 21.

The game was all tied up 21 points a piece going into half-time.. The current world champs looked stunned for a while before edging the Fijianas in the second half.

The side also went down narrowly against Russia 21- 26 in their last game in Hamilton.

Captain Raijieli Daveua was badly injured against Russia;  she needed to be carried from the field.

Despite these setbacks, things are looking very promising for the Fijian women’s side as the players showed signs of development and maturity in their games in Hamilton.

Pacific Women’s Rugby is still developing in our region. Hopefully more Pacific Island countries will join the Fijiana in the current 7s series before too long.

New Zealand won both the men's and women's competition in Hamilton.

 

The Fijiana 7s team created history by defeated England in their first pool match at the Hamilton 7s tournament yesterday. The English women were caught napping on most occasions as the Pacific Island players danced through and around the English defence.

Captain Raijieli Daveua and seasoned veteran Rusila Nagasau led from the front and were instrumental in guiding the team to a first-time ever victory over a well-balanced English women’s 7s team.

Despite the historic win, the Fijiana’s unfortunately lost their second match to China. It was a fairly even head-to-head but most rugby pundits would say that Fiji were robbed of an easy win in the game.

As if the early permanent send-off was not enough, controversial calls made by the referee in charge throughout the game did not favour the Fijiana’s cause despite their valiant efforts.  

In the end, China were gifted the win and Fiji might just be bundled out of the Cup contention.

In the men’s competition, Fiji and Samoa clashed horns in their first pool match. Samoa was quick off the blocks, scoring in the first minute straight from the get go.

Though appearing startled, the Fiji boys quickly regathered composure and immediately struck back with tries of their own.

The Samoans fought hard till the very the last whistle but still came up short with 12 -19 defeat.

Samoa were handed their second loss of the afternoon from a walloping margin from Argentina.

For Fiji, young Meli Derenalagi battled hard and proved to be very dominant in the contact areas, securing rucks and making crucial tackles for his side.

Pressure will be mounting for the 21-year-old rookie this weekend as he captains his country for the very first time.

He and World Rugby’s player of the year Jerry Tuwai take over the role from Paula Dranisinikula who is out with an injury.

Fiji just managed to keep the hopes alive with a 19 – 12 victory over the Aussies. Fiji will need to beat Argentina in its last pool match then automatically head to straight into the semi-finals.

Samoa is to play its last pool game tomorrow against Australia.

The Fijiana will play New Zealand. The Black Ferns have been in phenomenal form, which will make it an absolute cracker of a match today.

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