Marist Sevens to feature growing women’s tournament, Tupua Fred Wetzell Cup for men
After over 30 years, the Marist International Sevens Tournament continues to grow.
The 31st annual tournament was launched at Tanoa Tusitala Hotel on Thursday night, with the games themselves to be played on the 15th and 16th of February.
Tournament director Fata Brian Kaio said that the three objectives of the tournament are to identify new rugby talent, prepare players for international representation and promote social stability through the empowerment of youth and women.
2019 will be the second year in which a women’s tournament is run alongside the men’s.
Just one women’s team from overseas made the trip to Samoa last year, whereas this year New Zealand teams Marist Auckland (defending champions from 2018), Te Tai Tokerau (led by former Black Fern Rawinia Everitt) and Christchurch Women’s Rugby (led by Manusina captain and Kiwi Fern Sui Pauaraisa, last year’s top scorer with Marist Auckland) are all taking part.
Fata said that having overseas-based talent come to Samoa would be a good opportunity for the local players.
“We need to take the lead, the Samoa Rugby Union is trying to develop women.”
He said Marist started the tournament last year to back that up, since rugby starts at the grassroots level.
“It became a crowd favourite, so we’re looking to build that and have a lot of women’s teams.”
He said the women’s tournament brought in more spectators than the men’s last year.
Eight women’s teams in total will compete for the $5000 tala first prize, with the three New Zealand sides joined by locals Marist Invitational, A’ana Blues, Apia Maroons, Aleipata and Taga from Savaii.
For the first time, the men’s teams will compete for the Tupua Fred Wetzell Cup, as well as a cash prize of $20000.
24 teams including five from Savaii, three from New Zealand (including defending champion Marist Auckland) and one from Fiji, will compete for the cup, named in the memory of one of the tournament’s great supporters.
Marist St Joseph’s Sports Club president Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio said it was only fitting that the late Tupua be honoured in that manner.
“You guys [the Wetzell family] have been the number one, day one supporters for us”
In his remarks at the launch, Faimalomatumua was also grateful to the Chinese Ambassador Wang Xuefeng, New Zealand Acting High Commissioner Nick Hurley, and Australian High Commissioner Sara Moriarty for their presence and financial support.
“Thank you for believing in what we are trying to do here, with the development of our young people using sports as a tool.”
The New Zealand High Commission donated 40,000 tala to Marist for the tournament, to pay the costs of flying referees over from New Zealand.
Fata said those referees were supplied by the New Zealand Rugby Union, and their presence would make the games more professional.
“It’s all trying to develop the capacity.
“You have your locals but it’s a different feel when you play with an international referee.”
He said that fit with another of their tournament objectives, to prepare players for international selection.
“This is a platform where you showcase your talent.
“Our national team is coming along well, we have our bad days, but we can’t be complaining without doing something about development.”
Fata said the tournament has long been an opportunity to discover talent from the rural areas and Savaii.
“You always find a unique talent that’s never been discovered before at Marist.”
He said he was especially happy with a strong turnout from Savaii, who will have a team in the women’s tournament as well as five in the men’s.
Frankie Tama Uli Salelologa won the Bowl competition last year, and followed that up by winning the Samoa Rugby Union national Sevens Series.
They also have two players in the current Manu Samoa 7s squad for the Sydney round of the World Rugby Sevens Series: Kerisimasi Savaiinaea and Elisapeta Alofipo.
“That was an opportunity for [Manu Samoa 7s coach] Sir Gordon Tietjens to see the players,” said Fata.
He said they were still looking for sponsors for what is a costly event.
“Upgrading the facility, especially to cater for the around 10-15 000 that turn up to Marist every year.”
He said they will have better grandstands, medical facilities and sound systems this year.