The Manu Samoa Sevens team will have a lot more experience under its belt when they head to the Las Vegas Sevens.
It follows the decision to appoint veteran Afa Aiono as the captain as well as the return of former skipper, Faalemiga Selesele to the fray.
The changes were confirmed by Coach, Sir Gordon Tiejtens, yesterday at Apia Park where the team trained.
“I’ve named a new Capitan, Afa Aiono,” Tietjens said.
“He’s back. He wasn’t ready for the first two but he’s back from injury and played for Marist throughout the weekend.”
“That’s the experience that I need because I need to bring these younger players through. He knows everything about what the jersey means to him. I think when they won the World Series, he was one of the youngsters."
Aiono and Selesele will join Samoa Toloa and Tila Mealoi as leaders of the group.
“We’ve got some really good experienced players that have played at the highest level.”
Asked why Aiono has taken over from Mealoi, Tietjens said: “Tila doesn’t want the responsibility of being the captain."
“He’s been the captain for the first few tournaments. He was the most logical because he’s the most permanent."
“But he went away to the (Brisbane Global) Tens, I thought he was outstanding. He had no captaincy pressures and he just wanted to play. I talked with Tila and he just wants to focus on his game but he still has the leadership qualities to assist Afa and Faalemiga as well.”
Tietjens went on to say that the inclusion of Selesele and Aiono on the team would provide the experience that the team is currently lacking.
“If you look at the team I have, they’re a very new side. Now all of a sudden, I’ve got Selesele to come back in. And to bring those younger player through, you need a core of experienced players to work with.”
“For those first few tournaments, we’re talking about the most experienced players on this team its probably someone that’s into their second year."
“When you talk experience, it’s more like 40-50 tournaments."
“Samoa Toloa is another experienced player but we need more experienced players to bring in those young players.”
Tietjens is well aware about the disappointment from Wellington and Sydney.
“I think for the rugby purists, it takes time to create depth."
“For instance, one year, New Zealand was dominant as a sevens team and we won 12 series. But I also seen the emergence of other countries due to that. Look at Fiji who won the Olympic Gold Medal, this year they haven’t won a tournament. Someone else, South Africa has stepped up to the mark. And that’s what you’re seeing."
“As I said, it’s a new team for me and I’m still learning about what the players can produce and what they can’t. I’m seeing new younger ones putting pressure on the others, so it’s exciting."
“But Rome wasn’t built in a day and we all say that. As long as I see the improvement and the intensity then it’s about a little bit of patience but it will come and once we start clicking.”
Now looking ahead to Las Vegas, Samoa has a tough pool with U.S.A, England and Chile.
Still, Tietjens remains optimistic.
“Our goal is to get out of there and get into the cup Championship,” he said.
Fitness will not be an issue, Tietjens assured.
“We did a fitness test yesterday and they haven’t fallen away much at all. It’s really good.”
The coach reiterated that they are working hard on discipline.
“We did a big video session on the areas that I feel are letting us down on the tournaments and one of those was to address the yellow cards. We had nine yellow cards in four tournaments and its not good enough."
“We’re losing games at the death because we’re losing someone and putting on a lot of pressure to be defending with six men."
“We’ve got to get that part of the game right. We’ve got to get our other part and we‘ve talked about our decision-making. And if you’re indecisive, it has an impact on the play that’s ahead of you.”
Lastly, Tietjens also focused on the player’s ability to chop tackle, due to World Rugby’s crack down on dangerous tackling above the neck.
“The referees now are looking at the high tackles. Anything near the neck, you’re penalised and possibly, pending on the severity of it, you’re yellow carded."
“You’re flirting with danger. Everything is about chop tackle. When you produce a chop tackle, you produce an opportunity to get a turnover.”
The official roster for the team heading to Las Vegas will be announced by the Samoa Rugby Union by the end of the week.