The Bluesky Manu Samoa Sevens is primed for improvement in the American tournaments of the HSBC World Series in Las Vegas this weekend and Vancouver next week.
The team has been training very well this week and is looking sharp ahead of its first game against U.S.A tomorrow at 2.28 pm Samoan time. Their second game is against Spain 5.29pm.
Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens says competition for places in the line-up for Las Vegas has been fierce. So much so he is not able to name is top 7 starting line-up – just yet.
The team will be released in the morning Samoa Time. It’s looking likely the 13 that played in the Hamilton tournament will make up the bulk of the team.
There is a vacant spot left by the departure of Fa’alemiga Selesele who has returned to the Hawkes Bay Magpies.
That spot will be filled by Tomasi Alosio if he is fit to play. If not, he will be available for Vancouver according to Sir Gordon.
One fear he has is that the team had a “perfect” training session yesterday where everything clicked and the players ran with a lot of accuracy.
“When Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd lauded his team’s perfect training run last week in South Africa, then they fell apart against the Bulls which is usually why I don’t count perfect training sessions as a pre-cursor to winning rugby,” he said.
Particularly in the team’s first up game against U.S.A.
U.S.A. is sitting one point ahead of Samoa on the ladder and they will want to do well in front of the fans.
The other factor that will make U.S.A. dangerous this time is the team has not had a good season so far. There is a very good performance that is due anytime now for U.S.A.
In saying that, the playing field at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas is 12 meters narrower, 6 meters in from both sides. It means U.S.A. flyers like Perry Baker and Carlin Isles will have that much less room to work their magic.
With a smaller field, Las Vegas is usually a more combative game. Teams will play a more physical style game to gain an advantage.
While focusing on U.S.A. in the first up game, the team is also mindful it has met defeat at the hands of Spain and Australia.
Australia has already won in Sydney and is the most improved team in the Series. Spain is famously known for knocking Samoa out of qualifying for the Rio Olympics.
Coach Tietjens also cautions against unrealistic hopes for the team in Las Vegas. While the team is fitter than ever, and better tuned than in Hamilton there are pitfalls. His aim is for the team to stay in the main draw and make the Cup playoffs.
“The main objective is for the team to keep on improving and to maintain eighth spot or better at the end of the American tournaments,” he said.
To achieve that Sir Gordon said the aim is to minimise the error rate, and to improve attacking options from a platform of sound decision making.
It is poor decision making that causes players to be isolated during play. Another sign is overcommitting to certain plays or offloading under pressure.
He said offloads only work when you win the contact. When you are in control of the play then there is more time to set up players around you.
Sir Gordon said the main reason for poor decision-making is lack of fitness. He added that this team is the fittest they have ever been and so that liability is minimised.
The team enjoyed a huge welcome on Tuesday night from the Samoan community in Las Vegas.